There’s much to enjoy with Nobody, especially if you’re one of the millions who continually gobble up each chapter of the John Wick franchise. Count me in as a John Wick fan – after all, what’s not to love about a mob hitman having to go back to his trade after successfully getting out? Nobody takes it a few steps further, its protagonist being a nondescript family man with a whole lot more to lose. Coming as it does from members of John Wick’s creative team – co-director David Leitch (here in a producing role) and writer Derek Kolstad – the formula works just as well, even if it’s missing the mystique of the Continental Hotel, its denizens, and the assassin underworld.
Here, we have more of a suburban fantasy that parodizes the false bravado exemplified by people who see bad things happening and say, “I wish it would’ve happened to me, ‘cause I would’ve taken care of business.” In fact, there’s a character in this film who says almost this exact thing; by contrast, Hutch Mansell’s (Bob Odenkirk) presence and demeanor come from a different headspace. Instead of annihilating a pair of thieves breaking into his house, he opts for a nonviolent route, much to his self-disgust and that of his teenage son assaulted in the act. There’s a reason for his inaction which plays into the very everyday failure he’s experiencing.
Kolstad sets Hutch up as life’s fall guy, taking figurative punches from his boss, the boss’s son (who, in a misguided demonstration of how he’d have handled things, points an unsafetied gun at Hutch), the trash pickup service, and his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen), who sleeps with a pillow between them (implied to be her decision) and shows him no affection. But he dutifully conducts himself the way a husband and father is supposed to, pretty much sleepwalking through his existence. However, when he’s told the thieves made off with his daughter’s bracelet – nevermind his watch and the cash they snatched, let alone having his home violated and seeing his son get punched – he methodically launches himself into finding the perpetrators, hellbent on retrieving his property. It’s not just his material losses; it’s his sense of self-worth derived from being the person he once was.
Seen from Hutch’s point of view, Nobody is a dressing-down of the modern midlife crisis. As adults, we’re not as lively we used to be, and we’re coming to terms with the fact that our youthful exuberance has slipped away, and we’re facing our second and final half, slowing down and trying to make it last with the people we love. This is his reason for not doing anything initially about getting robbed. Then again, it might also be the fact that Hutch wants to keep a low profile because, as the film slowly reveals to us, his job used to be something Martin Blank intimates in a repeated line from Grosse Pointe Blank: “If I show up at your door, chances are you’ve done something to bring me there.” Yup, Hutch had a past in wetwork, and this theft has awakened his skills.
It’s not a smooth awakening, like John Wick’s transition back into the secret society he left behind. Hutch’s fight against both advancing age and his former self goes a little more realistically than we think. A random encounter with five toughs on a bus makes this painfully clear; this brawl isn’t the tightly-choreographed martial arts fight we’ve come to expect, especially considering the way he tells these goons what he’s going to do with them. His “I’m gonna fuck you up” sounds like it’s coming from a man who thinks he’s in charge, but this front is undone by the savage beating he receives (including a stabbing) before he gets the upper hand. And wouldn’t you know it, one of these guys just so happens to be Russian mobster Yulian Kuznetsov’s (Aleksei Serebryakov) brother. Now, Yulian’s looking for payback, thus necessitating Hutch using his forgotten lethal tactics to keep his family safe.
Sound familiar? A retired assassin has something taken from him and battles a gang of youths connected to the Russian mafia, leading to mass conflict, car chases, gunfight set pieces, and blood everywhere? It’s pretty much the first John Wick, albeit from a more grounded angle of middle age and parenthood. Writer Derek Kolstad takes the vital bits from John Wick and ports them over to Nobody with a little more comedy and a jukebox soundtrack planted firmly in the meta (yeah, you’re gonna hear “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” among other self-aware tunes). In doing so, Kolstad has written a send-up of his own John Wick script, right down to employing the start-the-movie-with-the-last-scene plot device. Even the poster, seen above, is a goof on the one accompanying John Wick: Chapter Two.
Bob Odenkirk’s performance walks a fine line between thickly-veiled parody and serious-as-a-heart-attack, which is his gift as both an actor and to the film itself. This unbelievable situation Hutch has gotten himself into would seem completely whacked and overly farcical in another actor’s hands. Odenkirk plays it just right, being the centerpiece of this Falling Down-esque battle against Hutch’s stagnant life and the mob. The tightrope between straightforward and straight piss-take is constantly teetered upon, but Odenkirk never falters, even when he’s screaming “GIVE ME THE GODDAMN KITTY KAT BRACELET, MOTHERFUCKER!” at the thieves who kick this whole thing off.
Nobody is as much an action film as it is a reflection upon our stupid societal notions of “acting like a man.” The first portion of the film certainly reads that way, with Hutch’s son losing faith in him because he didn’t “man up” and knock the thieves into submission (which would have garnered all sorts of unwanted attention, something he doesn’t need if he wants to stay retired). We see examples of these supposed “real men” while Hutch already knows what he’s capable of doing and is secure in that knowledge. It’s rather like the two types of people involved in fights in bars – you know the guy who’s shouting about wanting a fight is going to get his ass handed to him, while the guy who quietly says, “Do you really want to do this?” is the one who’s going to prevail. But even Hutch is folly to these insecurities, as his own getback (as James Brown would’ve called it) leads to the catastrophic events which fill the rest of the film. It’s masculinity carried to an extreme, and although Nobody wants to disabuse us of this kind of idiocy, a late-stage surprise involving Hutch’s father (Christopher Lloyd) comments upon the recurring cycle of male pattern violence. But thanks to outstanding fight scenes, a terrific turn by Bob Odenkirk, and a knowing wink-and-nod by the film’s creative team, the film takes the opportunity to hock a loogie at “what it means to be a man” and makes a hero out of a nobody.