We are witnessing pointless history in action. With the relative influence the John Wick series has had on the action genre so far, it was an inevitability that films in a similar vein would appear to have a punt at the “mysterious lead takes on more than they can chew” showcase. Atomic Blonde tried it, bathing in the Cold War antics and brilliant soundtrack such tense times provided, and now, it is the turn of Bob Odenkirk with Nobody. From Hardcore Henry director Ilya Naishuller is an action piece that ditches the stomach-churning, first-person antics and instead presents a neutered, clear-cut assignment that sees a suburban dad retaliate against the burglars that infiltrate his home and subsequently his way of life.
Those quick-cut intros that show the monotony of day-to-day life are magnificent, for it eventually blurs into one. They are fractured by a burglary, leaving no real physical damage, but scarring the memory of a closely-knit but somewhat tense family. Seeing this repetition is chilling, but establishes the routine Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) has come to confide in and comfort himself with. His inaction in the face of danger brings comments and confusion to those who say they would have acted differently. Charlie (Billy MacLellan) brandishes a gun in the face of Hutch, who offers him the weapon to protect him in future moments of fear. “You did the best thing you could, you being you.” offers Eddie Williams (Michael Ironside). There is disappointment and understanding in his voice, and much of the supporting cast is a good blend, but much of it requires a heavy suspension of disbelief. The officer says he’d have acted differently “if it were his family”, and the pile-on keeps on coming. It is efficient, but rather standard, prying at the mind of Hutch Mansell.
Odenkirk is established well in this role. He has been committed to this style of performance for quite some time. He is a fresh, inviting face for the action genre to turn to in its time of desperate need. The bumbling loser and amicable family man with the underlying current of tortured narratives and violence instilled within him are challenged. It is a narrative spin that implies a layer of comedy to balance out the core of the action. That, thankfully, does not encroach or overturn the efforts Odenkirk displays. Supporting performances from RZA and Christopher Lloyd aid him in his rise to the top of the action-star pile. Odenkirk is credible and will get there in the end if he keeps plugging away. For now, though, he is, as the title would suggest, a nobody. A shame, too. His narrative chops are solid, even if he is dealing with a story that has him yelling for the return of a kitty cat bracelet. It is hard to take such mannerisms seriously, the grizzled hero must match the biting dialogue, and a disparity between the two is to make a mismatch of emotions and tone.
Some of that is admissible, though. After all, Nobody is an action film, and as long as it gets this correct then Naishuller is in the clear. To an extent, Nobody does have acceptable moments of action. A fight on the bus sees some decent violence but, crucially, a camera that does not have to cut and blur its image. Naishuller and Odenkirk are confident in their efforts. With strong choreography and a surprisingly brutal realisation of the action hero stereotype, Nobody is stronger than it would first seem. There is an understanding that the leading man is not indestructible. The damage inflicted to him is not as bad as that of his enemies, but is noticeable and has consequences in future scenes and dialogue.
But Nobody struggles to disassociate itself from the simplicity and action-packed style John Wick presented. Perhaps that is the fault of scriptwriter Derek Kolstad, who tries to recapture the lightning in a bottle effect of the first John Wick piece. What few changes Nobody can make are to the soundtrack, which struggles to apply itself to scenes without feeling like its utilisation is to bolster the mood and nothing more. Burglars have inflicted a plight on his family, and for no other reason than a slight indiscretion, Hutch heads after them. Simple, effective, but not without its issues. We go to action films for escapism, and Nobody is more than capable of that. It feels like a surprising breath of fresh air, with clear and simple direction, aiming to showcase the causation, aftershock and brutal simplicity of a man seemingly in over his head.