NOBODY Review

There’s a moment just under an hour into Ilya "Hardcore Henry" Naishuller's Nobody when Bob Odenkirk’s Hutch Mansell returns to his home where, moments earlier, he took out an entire squad of Russian goons; their bodies still lay strewn about the house as Mansell’s family awaits a verdict in their secured basement: will the father and husband return, will he set them free, and also what the hell is going on up there? Mansell's wife, Becca (Connie Nielson) along their two children (Gage Munroe and Paisley Cadorath), have zero idea what kind of predicament their father's gotten them into and the children seemingly have no idea there dad was once one of the baddest mofo's on the planet. It was at this moment in the movie though, some fifty or so minutes in, that I hoped Mansell might - instead of cleaning up after himself or burning the place to the ground - reach for his phone to order the services of "The Cleaners" from the John Wick franchise proving indefinitely that screenwriter Derek Kolstad (a writer on all three John Wick films) had connected Mansell's universe with that of the Keanu Reeves character inevitably leading to a cameo from Odenkirk in John Wick Chapter 5: Whatever Unnecessary Subtitle They Come Up With. Unfortunately, said "Cleaners" do not show up and Mansell, as he does with most things in life, takes care of it himself. It's easy to say this "missed opportunity" is unfortunate, but is likely - ultimately - for the best given Kolstad is clearly attempting something a little more knowing here than he's done with any of his previous efforts including the Keanu Reeves actioners or the other random, B-level action movies he's written that no one ever knew existed until they saw them at a Redbox and only seem to exist to answer the question of, "what has Dolph Lundgren been up to since The Expendables 3?" With Nobody though, Kolstad is looking to enlist the ambiance of a traditional genre movie only to upend tropes such as the pounding score or the grizzly narration with the mundanities that make Hutch appear to be the "nobody" he aspires to be, but can't help but resent. While its protagonist could easily be described as a wolf in sheep's clothing the opposite is true of the film in that Kolstad and Naishuller set the movie up as if it were a serious, R-rated action flick whereas in reality the movie couldn't take itself less seriously. It's a clever little conceit that becomes more clever the further it's executed amounting to something akin to a top-tier, late-stage Liam Neeson actioner with the self-awareness to stop and wink at the audience from time to time.  

Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) proves there's more than meets the eye in Nobody.
© 2021 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

To be honest though, I was in from the very beginning. From the opening moment where Naishuller's camera interrogates every bruise and wrinkle on Odenkirk's face as he sits in an interrogation room himself; smoking a cigarette and eventually pulling a small kitten out from inside his jacket. What's not to like? As if it wasn't already clear the answer to that rhetorical question was, "nothing!" Naishuller only then takes it one step further in how he presents the title screen. Then! Then, there is the first minute or so of the movie post-title card that features some delightfully furious and genuinely funny editing that places us deep in the trenches of our protagonist's daily routine...even if I'm still not sure I understand why Hutch didn't just put the garbage can down at the end of his driveway the night before. It's at approximately three and a half minutes into the film though, that we know there's something different about Hutch Mansell and that he's probably not as much of a nobody as the title implies. It is when two burglars break into his quiet suburban home and instead of acting erratically or compulsively Mansell simply stops and observes quickly realizing these aren't professionals and that the gun they're using isn't even loaded. To the world, Mansell's hesitation in taking action plays into his perception as this most average of average joes and while we come to find out the simple life is what Mansell desired more than anything we also come to see that while it's not necessarily difficult for him to not receive the credit he's due, it is hard for him to be written off completely. 

It is then at about the half hour mark that we are introduced to the man who will provide Mansell his opportunity to take a trip down memory lane. Aleksey Serebryakov's Yulian Kuznetsov is introduced in an epic single take set to The Combination's "Accountant," where this fifty-six year-old man steps out of his Range Rover into the middle of the street and into a club where he takes the stage to karaoke to the same song playing in the background. While his theatrics are a bit much for some and don't inspire a whole lot of confidence in others, Yulian is quick to show he hasn't lost his edge and is in fact and very...bad guy. Why might a movie based around the idea of facade being some people's greatest weapon then introduce the most obvious and typical of bad guys in a Russian mobster then? Well, that would be due to the fact that Mansell may have, without knowing, put Yulian's brother in the hospital with little chance of ever walking again effectively setting most if not all of the Russians present in this cozy-seeming metropolis on his ass.

Speaking to the main conceit of the film though, Kolstad is certainly onto something with this idea of facade and utilizing assumption to zero in on a character who only knows how to interact with people by scanning them upon meeting them and figuring out what type of person they want in their life and becoming that person. This seems to have been Mansell's approach after meeting Becca in Rome and in deciding to settle down and have children with her. The catch, obviously, is that becoming someone only to serve someone else's idea of what you should be eventually leads to a state of loss and isolation. Without someone to guide him, to reassure him, to validate him, Mansell is naturally going to yearn for his true nature. Upon meeting the Mansell family it's clear there is tension not only between the angsty teenage son and his boring father, but between Hutch and Becca as well; their marriage having become little more than a facade in its own right. Mansell's young daughter still loves him unconditionally, offering chestnuts such as, "Why would I be? You're here!" when he asks if she was scared after the burglar incident. The hope was that Nobody might then dig in and somewhat psychoanalyze its protagonist in an attempt to figure out if what this man thought he wanted was really what he wanted or if his calling was to simply be what his nurturing raised him to become. There are certainly moments of clarity with this main idea such as when Mansell, post-beating up those aforementioned Russian goons, sits a couple of the now paraplegic henchmen down on his couch to tell them the story of how he came to find himself living in Pleasantville only to look over mid-story to find their injuries have gotten the better of them. It is after this admission to himself that he may have over-corrected in his pursuit for something real and pure that Kolstad's screenplay really finds its sweet spot by allowing Mansell to come to terms with who he is and what he's become even if it's clear he has no idea where to go with life outside the certainty of the immediate future. 

Mansell's family, including his wife (Connie Nielson) and two children (Gage Munroe and Paisley Cadorath) were previously unaware of their father's...abilities.
© 2021 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

That immediate future includes Odenkirk's Mansell teaming with his retired FBI father (Christopher Lloyd) and presumed to-be dead brother (RZA) to do away with Yulian and the rest of his cronies which leads into a discussion around Naishuller's action sequences. Though not having experienced the filmmaker's experiment in first-person moviemaking back in 2016 it's clear Naishuller has a penchant for packing his scenes not only with a clean sense of practicality and logistics, but also for layering in the tendencies of his characters. The fight that takes place mid-movie on a city bus is especially of note with Odenkirk's vulnerabilities being relayed along with his clear sense of confidence. Mansell knows he is going to come out with a few bumps and bruises regardless, he's no super hero, but he's more than likely going to come out on top no matter the obstacle and he - along with the audience - knows this as well. Naishuller's style for chronicling Mansell's bone-crunching (seriously, I don't know the last time I winced this much in an action flick) as much as he does convey the character's sense of self-conflict while balancing it with genuine humor ("Give me the goddamn kitty cat bracelet!") and great soundtrack utilization (Luther Allison's "Life is a Bitch" and Louie Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World") make for a well-rounded and complete experience that concludes with an out and out action sequence in a factory that just absolutely blows the roof off the expectations for a film as diminutive about itself as Nobody. I mean, there's some genuinely fun and inventive stuff included here. 

As stated, Odenkirk is especially well-suited for this type of role as it plays to his strengths as an everyman, but the actor has also clearly put in the work to be able to convincingly pull off someone that, when the time calls for it, could go toe to toe with John Wick if necessary. The way in which Lloyd and RZA's support system for our protagonist is conveyed in such a skillful and organic manner it is evident that the journey, the details of that journey, and the execution of said journey that's been told again and again is key with these two supporting players and their integration exemplifying just how critical that ingredient of execution is in elevating any kind of material. The downside to the substance evident on this end of Mansell's relationships though, is that it makes Nielson's role as his wife appear that much more confusing and underdeveloped. There are a lot of unspoken moments and intended understanding between the couple, but the audience is never given a firm grasp on where exactly Becca falls regarding her husband's time as what he refers to as an "auditor". Besides this one hiccup in a somewhat critical role Nobody is an otherwise delightful action movie that delivers on the promises of the genre while packing a little something extra in its quest to understand our primal urges. Watching someone like Hutch Mansell lie dormant in his suburban bubble for no less than five minutes only to see his inherent character come storming out once Mansell assures himself that a given situation warrants his rage perfectly aligns with your traditional movie structure as this initial return to form is naturally met by doubt from which Mansell will undoubtedly rise again. Nobody may not be a movie that's ever cited for its historical importance, but it's almost guaranteed to be a favorite among the genre junkies with its immense rewatchability that comes from the flex displayed by manipulating tropes into strengths.          

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