After finally getting back to the cinema a month ago, I managed to surpass last year’s double helping of Tenet by getting to see an Unlimited screening for the first time in over a year (aka the screenings of films not yet on general release for Unlimited members) and A Quiet Place Part II in the same week (a review of that is coming soon).
Amid a lot of Unlimited screenings (Cineworld making up for lost time, lost revenue and lost respect), one stood out immediately to me – Nobody, which I’d heard plenty about online from the Americans who’d got to see it earlier this year. Starring Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul fame, this action comedy-thriller sees protagonist Hutch Mansell living a humdrum suburban life until a home invasion jolts him off his axis, with a hitherto hidden past forced to the surface by his experience (and everything escalating accordingly from there).
The best way to summarise this excellent action film is that it’s John Wick, except he got married, had kids and just became a suburban dad instead. While not connected to those films as a sort of universe-building franchise offshoot (though the writer and director have hinted they’d be keen to retrofit it as such), the films share creative minds, with the writer of the first three John Wick films – Derek Kolstad – scripting this, and one of the directors and stunt geniuses from the first film (David Leitch, who also directed Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) producing.
All of this is to say that if you’ve seen any of the John Wick films, this is right up your street. Kolstad brings that same level of comedic bite and knowing tone, with perhaps a more real-world spin, while the presence of Leitch and fellow Wick director/stunt genius Chad Stahelski’s amazing 87Eleven stunt team means you’re going to get the same level of bruising, realistic and crunching action.
Director Ilya Naishuller meanwhile moves on up from the visually daring, absolutely insane film Hardcore Henry (think an entire action movie filmed from the first person perspective) to this with style, bringing some brilliant flourishes and a madcap sense of humour. His handle of the action intertwines his more gonzo approach to his first film with the studied, slightly zoomed out and detailed method of Stahelski and Leitch – in other words, there’s plenty of fighting, many bullets and gunshot wounds and yet you’re never in doubt that Odenkirk is getting stuck in – and it never gets boring.
It’s hilarious to think that we now have a generation of male actors reaching mid to late 50s and just deciding “fuck it, I’ll do a Neeson”, but Odenkirk in particular seems an almost unimaginable figure to do this. And yet that’s what makes this film work so well – the comedian and actor splices both parts of his acting experience together with some amazing stunt work to give us the rounded, complicated and altogether deadly Hutch Mansell (what a ridiculously great name), selling in particular the idea of a man trapped in the mundane but keeping a secret side hidden away.
Once the film allows Hutch to re-engage with his old self, Odenkirk absolutely shines – quipping away, holding your attention and making you laugh – but also making you believe that he’s a borderline psychotic veteran you wouldn’t mess with. It’s quite the transformation, and he sells it – in particular in the film’s standout action scene, a brawl on a bus that sees Hutch battered and bruised (and stabbed), but coming more into his own and his old self with each blow. I can’t believe it’s Saul Goodman we’re watching creatively eviscerating goons with bus paraphernalia, but this is the magic of cinema.
He also shines in the more dramatic scenes, coming off nowhere near Neeson or Willis levels of ham, but instead channelling that downtrodden schtick of his infamous lawyer role. Sadly, Connie Nielsen is wasted completely as Hutch’s wife, an earlier scene hinting she knows more of his previous life than let on before just binning her out of the film – when anyone who’s seen either Wonder Woman film knows she can more than handle herself in a fight.
However, when it comes to smaller characters within this film, the filmmakers outdid themselves with casting. Christopher Lloyd makes a triumphant return to the flicks as Hutch’s crotchety old dad, reminding you of the excellently eccentric comic timing of Doc Brown while at the same time doing more for the positive portrayal of the elderly on film than most Hollywood films (all I’ll say here is that there’s one scene where most films would have gone way, and Nobody goes the COMPLETE OPPOSITE, playing on Lloyd’s sheer eccentricity to get a huge laugh).
In addition, RZA makes a small cameo as Hutch’s half brother (a relationship basically created for a sequel, seeing as it’s barely explored here), and mostly via voice, while the great Michael Ironside is again welcomed back to our screens but not as a villain – just as a father in law! Nonetheless, seeing the indomitable character actor again is like a reward for having watched so many 80s films with him as the villain, though I wish he’d had more of a role. Finally, the UK’s own Colin Salmon makes a bizarre cameo appearance that felt straight out of Wick, or a weird UK gangster film.
The villain Yulian, played by Aleksei Serebryakov, is your standard hammy Russian gangster (strained English, mad eyes, all the stereotypes) but given Naishuller is directing, his Russian sensibilities feel less stereotypical via some quirks that are actually connected to real-life (the gangster is in charge of the mob’s money, which is actually with any one gangster at one time to keep it safe – I had no idea that was something they did). He’s a means to an end, but Serebryakov hams it up expertly, unpredictably Russian in his volatility and a good match for Hutch.
On the filmmaking side, the music from David Buckley is largely forgettable soundtrack wise (it didn’t stick in my head at all, it barely registered), but the film’s use of actual songs is to blame – because they’re so good! Among the best is a hilariously deployed You’ll Never Walk Alone, which – as a football fan – comes across so bizarrely when it’s used in an American context (and in this particular film’s context!) that you can’t help but laugh.
Visually, the editing is quite distinctive, with William Yeh and Evan Schiff making a bold start with a repetitive intro hammering home the mundanity of Hutch’s suburban life, while their handle of the action scenes – alongside 87Eleven’s excellent stunt work – means you can tell what’s going on and who’s hitting who, which is still a huge problem in Hollywood! Finally, cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski flushes any colour out of the movie to give it that mundane but gritty edge, and when colour does intrude it’s still a bit washed out – metaphors there aplenty!
If there was anything that could improve the film, it perhaps might have been longer and not held so much back for putative sequels – it’s an hour and a half, which is incredible nowadays! There also feel like there aren’t really any stakes as the film reaches its climax, but then the way that the film builds Hutch up as it proceeds should probably have clued me into that. Nielsen’s abandoned wife character is poorly served too, and it’s a shame they didn’t do more given her aforementioned action movie forays with Wonder Woman.
Last but not least, many people have knocked the film for its motto essentially being “man up and fight because nothing’s more macho, even if you’re a normal sensitive bloke”. I can totally understand that people would take that away from this, but it’s key that Hutch is still a family man – just one who hid his past. It’s also a hilarious action movie that gorily kicks arse – it’s not worth reading into it that much I don’t think.
I look forward to seeing what they might do with this character, and if there might be another Nobody down the line – or if Hutch turns up in John Wick 4 or 5. He wouldn’t feel out of place, and neither does Odenkirk – probably the most surprising older action movie star we’ve got.