Note: The writer of this review watched Nobody on a digital screener from home. Before making the decision to see it—or any other film—in a movie theater, please consider the health risks involved. Here’s an interview on the matter with scientific experts.
“Ordinary dude goes ballistic” isn’t such a tough premise to swallow. No, the real suspension of disbelief lies in who, generally, we’re asked to buy as the ordinary dude. On what planet is Charles Bronson even temporarily convincing as a mild-mannered family man? Therein lies the halfway-clever hook of Nobody, which fills its title role not with a prototypical tough guy in buttoned-down disguise but with stammering sketch-comedy veteran Bob Odenkirk. Though only two years older than Keanu Reeves, Odenkirk would fall very low on the list of actors you’d ever expect to get his own John Wick—he has neither the physique nor the disposition of your typical action hero. Which is what makes him so believable as a meek middle-American boob getting in touch with his inner Rambo. For once, the “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” as the bad guy calls him, is played by someone capable of projecting actual sheepishness, which gives this toxic power fantasy a new charge of queasy personality.
Odenkirk’s character, who goes by the hilariously dweeby name Hutch Mansell, isn’t actually so meek. As the film eventually reveals, he’s more like Liam Neeson in Taken—a guy whose ostensibly gentle nature masks a harder, scarier past. But initially, Hutch comes across as very harmless, even a doormat. He seems barely visible to his wife (Connie Nielsen) and kids (Gage Munroe and Paisley Cadorath), and his father- and brother-in-law, who he works for, walk all over him from 9 to 5. No one much respects Hutch—and that’s before burglars break into his suburban home, forcing a confrontation that he defuses through acquiescence instead of violence, even after his son leaps in to restrain one of the invaders. It was the right and safe way to handle things (no one got hurt much), but that doesn’t stop the police, neighbors, and even Hutch’s family from regarding him with thinly veiled shame and contempt. “You didn’t even take a swing?” the cop on the scene asks dismissively.
Hutch, of course, will get even. The home invasion unleashes his suppressed rage, freeing the alpha still lurking within this domesticated beta. Before long, he’s dropping goons and catching the unwanted attention of Eastern European gangsters. Nobody is directed by Ilya Naishuller, whose last feature was the spectacular and spectacularly stupid Hardcore Henry, a true lizard-brain extravaganza of first-person mayhem. This new one is more conventional in style and structure; it plays like a movie, as opposed to a speed run through a particularly outrageous video game. But there’s still a giddy, juvenile extremity to the action. The first big set piece is a doozy: a seemingly endless brawl on a parked city bus between our fed-up hero and a posse of drunk, rude hooligans. It’s one of those movie fights that just goes on and on, the violence moving from brutal to funny through sheer, absurd duration. It’s amazing.
You could call Nobody Wickian. It’s been written and produced by veterans of that trilogy, and the showdowns are comparably visceral and virtuosic. In philosophy, however, we’re stuck in Death Wish territory. In fact, the film comes closer to a modern version of that seminal, odious vigilante thriller than Eli Roth’s remake; the racial politics aren’t quite as retrograde, though this new film plays with fire at least once, during the scene where our paradigm of aggrieved white manhood confronts the house-robbing couple that lit his fuse. By getting his punch, stab, and shoot on again, Hutch is really embarking on a DIY self-help seminar, living better by ditching his better angels. Turns out there’s nothing like crushing some young punk’s windpipe to put the wind back in your marital sails. (That poor Hutch feels emasculated is clear from the superbly cut opening montage of his daily routine, featuring a recurring shot of him doing pull-ups at a bus stop plastered with the face of his wife, who’s in politics or real estate or something; the movie never really clarifies.)
Make no mistake, this is pure caveman bullshit. Yet it’s caveman bullshit made with style and wit, qualities that extend from its screenplay to its performances to its staging. There’s a good running gag of Hutch easing into a monologue about his dark past, only to discover that the mortally wounded henchmen he’s addressing have died already. We get Michael Ironside glowering as the aforementioned father-in-law, RZA literally phoning in some cool as Hutch’s contact to the old ways, and Leviathan star Aleksey Serebryakov having a flamboyant good time as the Russian heavy with a yen for karaoke. Speaking of the villain, he gets a Goodfellas entrance, walking through a hopping nightclub in a single extended take. Mostly, however, Naishuller swaps the long-shot approach of his Hardcore Henry for fluid cutting. If there are times when Nobody feels catered to the crowd that sees no satire in Fight Club, at least that (red) pill goes down smoother via some Fincher-grade editing.
It’s Odenkirk who really sells this pulp—who affixes the fun on the end of its dumb, mostly through smart acting. He’s not totally out of place in a scuzzy underworld; the den of gangsters he plummets into here is just a more generic variation on the cartel hellscape Jimmy McGill has been navigating, on and off, for nine televised seasons. There, the transformation from (reasonably) good man to Goodman is a slow-motion tragedy. Here, the Mr. Show alum gifts us a credible Jekyll and Hyde act, coloring Hutch’s initial rut with a highly believable mediocrity and schlubiness, before tapping the audience right into his cathartic, no-shits-left-to-give pleasure—the Odenkirk conman buzz that passes from character to viewer when he’s laughing at his own sinful audacity. It’s a blast seeing the actor in this kind of role, even if Nobody does vaguely play like the nihilistic cartoon version of a Vince Gilligan arc, finding only fist-pumping cool in a timid man learning to tell the whole world to tread lightly.