Action films can be epic, dramatic, genre-defying, and artistic. They can be star vehicles, choreography showcases, or throwbacks. Some are meant for the widest possible consumption, with edges shaved off or thematic influences dialed up to attract the viewers for whom action setups may not generally appeal. Nobody belongs in a different category. It is an action film exceptionally pitched towards those who know and adore the take-it-or-leave-it style of unrestrained ribaldry and ruthlessly efficient bombast. This film’s performances, lean packaging, and filmmaking ingenuity may make Nobody something of a crossover hit regardless, but this is one for the unabashedly carnage-prone filmgoer. It’ll pull you to the edge of your seat and knock you right off.
Behind the camera, Nobody already sports a gleaming pedigree, and sets up high expectations for a neat, nasty, 90-minute blood-soaked bonanza. Take director Ilya Naishuller, whose breezy, witty first-person music videos and absolute bash of a feature debut Hardcore Henry have set him up exquisitely for a career of inventive, unabashedly carnivorous flicks. Now paired with Derek Kolstad, writer of the John Wick franchise, and a rather unexpected but certainly game leading man, Naishuller and company are playing with loaded dice before the story even kicks off. Thankfully, all of them deliver.
As protagonist Hutch Mansell, the seemingly insignificant, tread-upon office drone at the center of Kolstad’s screenplay, Bob Odenkirk taps into a surprise-action-hero mold few other performers could pull off in this day and age. Odenkirk is already known and appreciated by many for both his comedic and dramatic abilities in a plethora of much-loved works, making it all the more eye-widening, and oddly engrossing, to see him embody a suburbanite reconceptualization of Kolstad’s righteously (and murderously) indignant über-killer John Wick, played to memorably stoic notoriety by Keanu Reeves. It will come as no surprise that Kolstad is responsible for creating both characters; Mansell is essentially the what-if storyline had Wick been allowed to go off and start a loving family without pesky Russian mobsters inserting themselves into his business. Though the setting may be different, Nobody carries over the ebulliently violent setpieces, occasionally overzealous masculine rage, and curt but chuckle-inducing macho quips — and does not skimp on pesky Russian mobsters, either.
Kicking things off with a tantalizing isolated prologue, Naishuller moves swiftly into a brutal depiction of inescapable mundanity. Mansell and his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) live a deeply monotonous, grey existence, until a random home invasion leaves Mansell disturbed and resentful in a manner he hasn’t felt in years. Kolstad keeps developments intriguingly unhurried (unlike with Wick, who tends to go for blood about one scene after a provocation), and lets the cogs turn in Mansell’s head before the proper plot starts to rev up. Needless to say, this clipped domesticity masks a particular set of skills Mansell must inevitably revisit in order to eke out some justice from the situation. Unlike a number of other ‘aging-white-man-utterly-destroys-those-who-arbitrarily-wronged-him’ movies (and there are a lot), Nobody’s ripple-effect plot and impressively earnest lead performance keep its motives purely focused on diegetic thrills, and mostly avoids the nauseatingly toxic self-righteousness the genre can often imply.
There is no undercurrent of kids-these-days nitpicking, or why-can’t-men-be-men lunacy here, only a ground-level story genuinely interested in the limits of personal control – but even more interested in all the ways Bob Odenkirk can dismember evil Russian henchmen in various hilariously mundane locations. A city bus, a quaint house in a sleepy cul-de-sac, the trunk of a sedan, and a beige manufacturing plant all become arenas for expertly-choreographed and visibly painstaking fight sequences. Kudos must go right to Odenkirk for throwing himself into the part, and the physical violence it entails, with what appears to be all-in intensity.
Naishuller, Kolstad, and all the assembled crew giddily pepper each frenetic showdown with nods to great actioners throughout history, from The Raid to The Wild Bunch to Die Hard to a splendid automotive visual lifted right out of Vanishing Point. Like he did with Hardcore Henry, Naishuller and his team have also paired the wildest of showdowns with crafty needle-drops that both get the pulse pounding even faster and add in a most welcome cultural capital to the depraved proceedings. Louis Armstrong, Steve Lawrence, Andy Williams, and (perhaps most delightfully) Pat Benatar get show-stopping showcases that just ooze rewatchability.
Supporting turns from the delightfully multifaceted cast — including RZA, Colin Salmon, and a fantastically spry Christopher Lloyd — elevate Nobody even further from simply being another impotence-anxiety thriller, although the film’s parameters have their drawbacks. Odenkirk is fabulous at portraying Mansell’s willpower and tactical talent, but the setup of ubermensch vs. a sea of faceless mobsters once again sidelines the film’s female characters to a head-scratching degree. While Nobody avoids most clichés and moves at such a steady and confident clip that its hiccups go largely unnoticed, the film’s largest pitfalls are in its usage of Mansell’s family, who endure the extremely familiar being-sent-off-for-their-own-safety routine and are little more than a background plot device. Not a disqualifying setback, but a lamentable and distracting choice in a film filled with clever and creative ones.
On a more positive note, the film includes some refreshing racial diversity in its affairs, including the commendably unremarked-upon fact that Odenkirk and RZA are brothers, and Lloyd is their father. Plus, a scene-stealing turn by actor Araya Mengesha as Pavel, a Black Russian operative whose race narrowly avoids being a cheap punchline, and instead tees up a solid, if short-lived, heat-check supporting turn.
Overall, Nobody is an impressive piece of work and invigorating presence in the modern action film landscape. It begs to be revisited, and with a runtime so lean, a slate of performances so well-embodied, and visceral setpieces so ferocious and efficient, this is sure to be a much-loved actioner in itself for years to come.