Warning: Mild Spoilers Below!
Nobody tells the story of Hutch Mansell — a thoroughly milquetoast man in a middle management job and mediocre marriage. He’s stuck in a rut, and every day he dies the same death by a million small indignities. His wife bosses him around, his brother-in-law is his actual boss, and even his son doesn’t respect him. But when his family is threatened by burglars and later an innocent woman is harassed on a public bus by a group of men, we learn that Mansell is actually a former “auditor” — essentially a black ops assassin for the CIA. And he is tired of his suburban life. Nobody is equal parts John Wick, True Lies, American Beauty, and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
Odenkirk as the beleaguered Hutch Mansell is great, because Odenkirk is always great. Even if this was a bit of a vanity project for him (the idea for the film was his and the part was written specifically for him) he did the work and that includes the physical training and a lot of the stunts. It’s easy to go into Nobody expecting a performance that is broadly comedic like Saul Goodman or even the manic desperation of Jimmy McGill (to keep it in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul family), but as Mansell he is subdued and quietly defeated … Until he lets loose. He is surrounded by a terrific supporting cast including Connie Nielsen, Aleksey Serebryakov, Christopher Lloyd, and even RZA. Serebryakov is fantastic as the karaoke loving Russian mob boss, and Lloyd and RZA — once they appear — have the time of their lives throwing punches and grenades alongside pithy bon mots. Unfortunately, Nielsen is not given much to do aside from coldly bossing her husband (Odenkirk) around before being shut away in a safe room for the last half of the movie.
Directed by Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry) and written by Derek Kolstad (creator of John Wick), the action of Nobody is both slick and brutal. The ending Home Alone -esque traps become a little bit cartoonish but the fight on the bus is an all-timer in terms of fight choreography, tension, and creativity. And at first glance Nobody seems to fit well as an extension of the John Wick trope. The quiet man who is pulled back into an escalating spiral of violence. A man who must take down an entire branch of the Russian mafia in order to keep his family safe.
But this movie is not John Wick. Instead of a retired assassin ripped from his peaceful existence with an unspeakable act of violence and then unleashing his grief and rage on the unwitting baddies, we have a retired assassin who is unsatisfied with his suburban life and seeks out the carnage. All of the murder and mayhem that unfolds is of his own making. He isn’t reacting out of grief or vengeance, but out of boredom. Out of frustrations over feeling emasculated in his marriage and his job. The film seems to be a critique of this sort of violent mid-life crisis. Should we be rooting for this man who’s first response to a home break in is to track down the thieves with the intent to murder them? Whose response to a woman being cat called on the bus is to savagely brutalize all of the men responsible, splattering the woman with their blood and probably further traumatizing her? (Okay maybe don’t ask Twitter this.) And it’s an interesting question — what does it mean for a film to glamorize this sort of violent toxic masculinity masquerading as vengeance? Sure, not every middle-aged man has been trained by the US government to be a covert-ops “auditor,” but how do we cope, culturally, with so many men who have this violent anger simmering just beneath the surface? Because the film makes it clear that he doesn’t provoke the fight out of some sort of moral high ground, he was looking for any excuse to unleash his pent-up blood lust.
Unfortunately, the third act drops this introspection entirely in favor of sassy one-liners and deadly Rube Goldberg booby traps. It says “nevermind, we actually do think you should cheer this guy on! Look, Christopher Lloyd with a sawed-off shotgun! He’s ancient but he can still blow you away!” Hutch gets to murder a bunch of Russian mobsters with the help of his dad and his brother (who literally drive off into the sunset together.) He earns back the love and respect of his wife and son. It says, “yes, disgruntled white man, violence can be the answer!” It feels like an almost cowardly about-face. It’s not necessarily dishonest, after all things do tend to work out well for real life Hutch Mansells most of the time. But it’s disappointing to see any sort of self-reflection or critique drop away in favor of quips and good vibes.