I’m not sure if there’s a name for it yet, but the “simple man who used to be a badass comes out of retirement and uses his special skills to take revenge on a villain” concept just never seems to get old. How many times can we see a former badass take on a villain of foreign (usually Russian) origin? Apparently a lot since we’ve now seen several franchises based on this concept like “John Wick”, “The Equalizer” and “Taken”. The latest film in this “genre” is “Nobody”, a film written by “John Wick” creator Derek Kolstad, directed by “Hardcore Henry” filmmaker Ilya Naishuller and starring Bob Odenkirk of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” fame who, despite appearing in films dating back to 1993, has only recently reached leading man status. “Nobody” is exactly what you’d expect, focusing on Odenkirk as a man named Hutch who left behind a life as an “auditor” to be a family man only to rekindle his repressed skills when a group of young men irritate him on a bus causing a Russian drug lord to take revenge. It’s the same old song and dance we’ve seen over and over again and yet, it’s still so much fun.
“Nobody” really doesn’t travel any new ground for the action-thriller-badass-comes-out-of-retirement genre (someone really needs to think up a name for these movies) but it does what I always ask of a film of this caliber which is to embrace its clichés well and decides to go all in with its approach if it’s not going to try anything unique. “Nobody” is a short, sweet and entertaining ride at only an hour and a half and thankfully spends more time on exploring Hutch’s return to his badass ways than the stereotypical Russian bad guy he eventually faces in the last half hour. Bob Odenkirk is front and center the entire time and he completely owns his opportunity to transform into a potential action superstar. Not only does he fit the role of the everyman based on looks and personality alone, but when he finally does embrace Hutch’s hidden talents he feels vulnerable and breakable often getting hurt and slowing down as the combat progresses. It’s nice to see a hero who isn’t just an unstoppable badass at first and has to get used to the pain and remember his training after stifling it for so long. Eventually we see him completely return to the man he used to be, but even then he’s not perfect and is prone to getting shot and injured which makes him surprisingly human in a pool of otherwise unbreakable action icons that litter these kinds of films. Sure John Wick and Bryan Mills do get hurt when they fight but it never seems to slow them down and we always feel like they’re going to win. Hutch gets slowed down and his resilience only adds to the believability that he is an unstoppable force, yet there are times when you can genuinely question whether or not he is going to make it out or even win the fight.
The action is what this movie is really all about and while it’s not shot as well as the “John Wick” franchise, it is choreographed excellently with creative and fun combat that eventually evolves into a mix of hand-to-hand battles and gunplay that is sure to give any viewer looking for a big screen adrenaline rush a fun time. Not the mention we get to see Odenkirk, RZA and the great Christopher Lloyd all show their on-screen skills with firearms which is just an absolute joy to watch. One easy criticism of the movie is that the bad guys are the typical faceless foreigners and that’s not wrong. Aleksei Serebryakov plays the main villain and other than his eccentric stage presence there’s not a whole lot that separates him from the wide array of other Russian baddies we’ve seen in similar films. However, like previous features, “Nobody” benefits from this for a couple reasons: one because it’s smart enough to leave the main conflict for the final half hour and spend the bulk of the time showing Hutch rekindling his forgotten talent for violence and two because making them faceless villains allows us to appreciate the creativity and mindlessness of the action that much more. It’s a storytelling method that only works in these kinds of films, eliminating our emotional connection to the villain and manipulating its American core audience using the “evil Russian” cliché thus allowing us to relate to and root for Hutch that much more. Is it safe and pandering? Yes. Does it work in the context of this movie? Absolutely!
But that’s not to say that “Nobody” doesn’t have something deeper for viewers to appreciate. Hidden under the surface is an interesting ideal: that violence isn’t always the answer and that not everyone deserves to suffer for the sake of revenge. The movie’s story is actually sparked by a break-in at Hutch’s home where he refuses to embrace his inner warrior and even holds back his son from embracing that violence as well, probably aware of the dark path that could lead him on. We later see Hutch come face to face with these criminals only to realize why they did what they did. Hutch actually goes out looking for a fight and only embraces who he is when he finds a group of men he deems truly worthy of his punishment. Even late into the movie Hutch gives the villain a chance to walk away warning him that if he continues to seek out a fight for reasons that are frankly insignificant to the villain himself it won’t end well. While one could look at a film like “Nobody” and assume it’s glorifying violence (and there’s a strong argument to be made there) I saw it another way. I saw it as saying violence and guns and fighting are pretty cool, but should be a last resort used in selective situations against only those people who aren’t going to listen to reason. Hutch might go looking for fights, but he never engages until he has found one worth fighting and is willing to back away if he realizes he has walked into the wrong situation. One could say it’s a commentary on today’s society where everyone seems to be looking for a fight or conflict especially on social media…or you could say that I’m just trying to find meaning in a mindless action romp that is perfectly watchable and enjoyable without the subtext. To each their own.
“Nobody” is another great entry in a genre that really needs it own name by now. Once again we see a man who has left their violence behind embracing their hidden skills leading to some epic action scenes and some grade-A big screen bloodshed and escapism resulting in an awesome action thriller. Bob Odenkirk makes the most of his chance to break out as the next action superstar and the experienced genre filmmakers Ilya Naishuller and Derek Kolstad makes for a great pair to bring some fun flair to what could have easily been a forgettable mishmash of clichés. It’s still very cliché, but in a good way choosing fun avenues to embrace what should by now be considered overused ideas to provide something that feels so familiar yet so fresh at the same time. There’s even some underlying subtext if you want to dig deeper, but “Nobody” is first and foremost just a genuinely fun experience even if it fails to really do much of anything new for the genre. It’s a great time and an interesting reminder that sometimes a winning formula just keeps getting better the more it’s used. What’s that old saying? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? This is truly an action thrill ride worth taking if you get the chance.