Director: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, Aleksei Serebryakov, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath, Michael Ironside, Billy MacLellan, Colin Salmon
Running Time: 92 min.
★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Chuck Norris. Charles Bronson. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sylvester Stallone. Bob Odenkirk? As odd as you'd think that seems, the crime thriller Nobody is all about this. The concept of not just Odenkirk as an action star, but the idea of a performer stepping so far outside audience's preconceived notions of them that we begin to grow an even greater appreciation of of their many talents. Not that it's newsworthy for actors to frequently dabble in different genres, with viewers now more aware that the crossover between TV and films have created an environment where "typecasting" nears extinction.
That someone like Bryan Cranston, who played a sitcom dad on Malcolm in the Middle could later immerse himself in a cancer-striken drug kingpin on one of televison's greatest dramas certainly helped change perceptions. Actors act, but there will always be doubters, especially of someone as comedically inclined as Mr. Show vet Odenkirk, who aleady proved naysayers wrong as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, before dramatically powering its prequel, Better Call Saul, with a character many falsely assumed was too silly to stand on its own.
If a precedent of defying odds had already been set with Odenkirk, it's taken to an entirely different level here, as he enters the genre with a pushback that's not entirely dissimilar to what Liam Neeson initially encountered. That Neeson is the closest comparision should give you an idea at the kind of leap he's taking, even if it's unlikely he'll want to carve out a similar action career. But the point is that he could. That's the shocker, even for those with full faith in his ability to pull this off. Granted, it isn't Death Wish, Rambo or even John Wick, but there's very little winking at the audience, with moments of dark, self-referential humor that play directly to his strengths, taking itself dead seriously when necessary.
Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) is a seemingly average guy who has two kids with his successful real estate agent wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and frequently forgets to take out to the trash before going to work at father-in-law Eddie's (Michael Ironside) metal fabrication company. Between a lack of intimacy with Becca, tending to his ex-FBI agent father David (Christopher Lloyd) in a nursing home and teen son Brady (Gage Munroe) showing him no respect, Hutch's life is in a rut, as this boring routine zaps him of all ambition and drive. But when the family are subjected to a home invasion and Hutch lets the intruders get away, his inaction is heavily scrutinized, prompting him to hunt down the criminals himself.
Hutch finds the perpetrators, but also gets more than he bargained for when a violent encounter with gang members on a public bus make him the target of ruthless Russian mob boss,Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov). Now a marked man with his family in grave danger, the shady nature of Hutch's past starts coming to light, revealing the true motivations behind his passive approach during the attempted robbery. Suddenly sucked back into a violent life he left far behind, he'll need to rely on his resourcefulness and maybe recruit some unexpected help in finishing a war that wasn't supposed to start.
Hutch's trajectory isn't that far removed a pre-Heisenberg car washing, high school chemistry teaching Walter White on Breaking Bad or a Cinnabon managing Gene Takovic from Better Call Saul's flash forwards. By society's standards he's considered a total failure, or by more realistic expectations, a depressed, sad sack who simply blends in. It's clear his family, aside from a doting young daughter, turn their noses up at him, as do co-workers and mere acquaintances who sure are judgy about his actions during a burglarly they didn't even witness. Odenkirk's so good at making us think this bothers Hutch more than it actually does since the character already knows something we don't. This isn't just about an emasculated middle class white guy snapping and going on a rampage ala Falling Down.
The events and its ensuing fallout get to Hutch, just not in the way we would have suspected. It doesn't necessarily wound his ego because he isn't a Walt, but instead a Gene. This isn't his first rodeo, and the anguish he's been feeling stems mainly from having to suppress these dark, turbulent tendencies behind the facade of a once happy marriage and white picket fence. A new life is what he wanted and still does, but it's starting to bore the hell out of him. The reckoning that begins with this break-in was a long time coming and that's what makes the story a lot more engaging than if some loser suddenly took to the streets vigilante-style. The script also provides great cover for Odenkirk doing things that even under the most fanciful Hollywood circumstances would be too far a bridge for disbelieving audiences to cross.
This backstory allows them to effortlessly cross that barrier of skepticism and let Odenkirk do the rest, as it can't be overstated just how well he pulls that off. The bus fight sequence is pivotal in not only providing the film its centerpiece, but establishing the rules. This guy's dangerous, but not invincible. What plays out from then on can best be described as an ongoing symphony of violence, as Hutch's fearless, all-out assault against these mobsters gets underway, along with some really inspiring and off-the-wall music choices providing the backdrop. Even the main villain gets a musical introduction so bizarre that it nearly forces itself to work, and succeeds. And if trying to spot a completely unrecognizable Michael Ironside as Hutch's father-in-law isn't enough to get your attention, there's barely enough time to register that the legendary Christopher Lloyd hasn't been given enough to do before he's suddenly handling a great deal more than we thought was possible.
Proving the power of inventive casting, Nobody couldn't have stood out nearly as much with a more predictable performer in the lead. It's rare that the entire draw of an action project rests with the audience's relationship and familiarity with the star, but Odenkirk's performance is why this all works. He believably shifts into ass-kicking mode and does it with large doses of brutality, leaving little doubt this is someone who shouldn't be underestimated, complete with an ending and mid-credits scene heavily implying we haven't seen the last of Hutch. Whether or not the role was specifically tailored to the actor's skillset, director Ilya Naishuller and writer (and John Wick creator) Derek Kolstad craft the action and story around Odenkirk's ability to play a seemingly ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. And he's more than up to the task, elevating a well-made, if functionally generic action vehicle into something that leaves a stronger impression.