Thursday, July 15, 2021

"Nobody": review

A lot of critics immediately compared "Nobody" to the John Wick movies because, in their estimation, it follows much the same formula. They're not wrong, especially given how many John Wick people were involved in the making of "Nobody," but let me take you back to the 1980s, when a movie called "Target," starring Gene Hackman as an ex-CIA operative, came out. As in the movie "Nobody," Hackman's character Walter is married and has kids. He leads a quiet life, and he has an impatient son (Matt Dillon) who thinks his father is little more than a boring failure. Beat for beat, "Nobody" and "Target" both follow this template. There are divergences, of course: "Nobody" features plenty more action, plus it has Christopher Lloyd as the main character's father. And "Target" delves more deeply into the father/son dynamic as the two men try to rescue Walter's wife, while "Nobody" is about a man who finally realizes he can't deny his true nature as a natural-born killer.

Directed by Ilya Naishuller ("Hardcore Henry") and starring Bob Odenkirk (of "Better Call Saul" fame) as Hutch Mansell, "Nobody" is the story of a quiet, desolate family man who is bored with his life and hiding a bloody past from his family. We get only hints and glimpses, bits and pieces of this past as the movie progresses, and the plot doesn't really kick into gear until, after experiencing a home invasion, Hutch goes in search of his daughter's kitty-cat bracelet, which he assumes had been taken by the burglars. After finding and dealing with the criminals, he gets on a bus that is boarded by a group of drunk and rowdy punks, most of whom are Russian. A fight occurs during which Hutch, after years of playing the quiet husband and father, unleashes the beast and brutally fucks the punks up. It's a glorious but messy fight: Hutch is rusty, and he gets his ass handed to him several times during the brawl, but in the end, he comes out on top. Alas, it turns out that one of the rowdy punks is the little brother of a powerful Russian gangster named Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who is currently overseeing money for the Obshak, a network of crime organizations. Furious, Yulian puts out a hit on Hutch. Hutch's black half-brother Harry (RZA), though in hiding, is still tapped into the grapevine and warns Hutch about the danger he's in. The Russians, at first, have no idea who Hutch is—he's "nobody," after all, simply a man who wants a taste of domestic existence. Hutch, in turn, warns his father (Christoper Lloyd) to expect trouble because the Russian mob will certainly target Hutch's family.

I'll stop there with the plot description and let you watch the movie for yourself. I thought the movie was rather predictably boilerplate in terms of its story (there're only a certain number of ways a story like this can end), and as with many actioners, the action itself became implausible in the film's final reel, but Bob Odenkirk should be praised for acting his heart out in what must have been a fun departure for him. I've never watched "Better Call Saul," but the character of Saul appears quite often in "Breaking Bad," so I had a chance to see Odenkirk's knack for comic timing long ago. There's plenty of comedy in "Nobody" as well, but the character of Hutch is closer to John Wick in temperament: quiet, methodical, and focused. Who would have envisioned Bob Odenkirk as an ass-kicking action star? He certainly wouldn't have been at the top of my own list. But Odenkirk sells the role.

Connie Nielsen plays Becca Mansell, Hutch's wife. Her character, a successful career woman, has grown distant from Hutch, perhaps as a function of Hutch's own desolation. Nielsen doesn't have much to do, but she plays her role with tired, motherly conviction. Michael Ironside, looking surprisingly old and fat, plays Hutch's father-in-law Ed, at whose company Hutch works. Hutch's kids are played by Gage Munroe as Blake, Hutch's sullen teen son; and by Paisley Cadorath as Sam, Hutch's cute and funny elementary-school-age daughter. Munroe and Cadorath also have small parts, but their acting is good enough to give them distinct personalities. Christopher Lloyd stands out as Dave, Hutch's father languishing in a nursing home, but still, it turns out, a tough and wily old bird.

The movie features some Edgar Wright-style editing at the beginning as we are introduced to Hutch's boring, everyday routine. We get a few jump cuts that take us through a typical week or two of Hutch's life, and things don't get exciting until the home invasion happens. I should note that this is a character moment in several ways. First, it's Blake the son who tackles one of the burglars, but Hutch, who has a chance to take down the other burglar, refuses to do so and instead tells Blake to let the captured burglar go. From then on, Blake loses all respect for his dad; daughter Sam, however, is too young to understand any of this and still idolizes her father. Later on, when Hutch is talking with his half-brother Harry, he describes in abnormally acute detail what happened during the home invasion, and we discover that Hutch realized the one burglar's gun was empty, which is why he refused to bring the intruder down. The moment shows us that Hutch's eye for detail comes from training, and we get our first hint that he is, in fact, a very dangerous man. As character-building goes, this was a signal moment in the film, and while the movie may have followed a rather typical, predictable trajectory, my hat is off to the writers for including a moment like this.

I should also take a second to mention the music. While the movie's main score is nothing special, "Nobody" is shot through with golden oldies meant to match Hutch's state of mind. Sammy Davis, Jr.'s "I Gotta Be Me" plays at the beginning of the bus fight scene as Hutch gives in to his true nature as a killer. It's a hilarious bit of auditory genius, and it fits the scene perfectly. Other oldies mark the mood just as ably.

In the end, I enthusiastically recommend "Nobody." As a story, it won't take you anyplace you haven't been before, but you get to see the novelty of Bob Odenkirk as an action star, playing a hero who has certain traits in common with John Wick, but who also takes his licks the way Bruce Willis's John McClane did in the Die Hard films. Odenkirk thoroughly owns the role, and if you're a fan of action movies with revenge themes, you'll like "Nobody."

[Personal note: this is my first movie review since the stroke. We're back, baby!]


John Mac said...

Great review. But did he ever find the kitty-cat bracelet?

Kevin Kim said...

He did.

John from Daejeon said...

Novelty and music aside, it was so unbelievable, I had to immediately rewatch the French flick, "Prey," to remember that the U.S. has vast amounts of police (city, state, federal, military) that would have been out in force over anything as over-the-top as the bus scene or that of the obshack. Remember the North Hollywood shootout/bank robbery? Cops were everywhere, including the air.

Now, had it been set in today's Chicago or Portland, I could understand the lack of cops, but Hutch probably would have quickly been killed in one of the numerous drive-bys that happen all the time in those cities.

Great to see you pounding out lengthy reviews again. Maybe you can watch "Prey," and give us your take on it. It might also help you to watch it in the original French without the subtitles.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, you could say that about most action flicks, I think—where are the police?

According to Wikipedia, Bob Odenkirk was the victim of an actual home invasion. He ended up handling the problem by trapping the burglar in his basement, but when the police arrived to take over, he was unhappy with how they managed the situation, and this is what inspired him to work on a movie about a "badass" who would take care of business the way Odenkirk thought it should be taken care of.

Kevin Kim said...

Of course, these days, the police are defunded and city crime is running rampant.