“Nobody,” Reviewed: Bob Odenkirk in a Delusional Fantasy of Redemptive Violence

The bloodthirsty new thriller “Nobody,” directed by Ilya Naishuller, was written by Derek Kolstad, who wrote all three “John Wick” films,...


The bloodthirsty new thriller “Nobody,” directed by Ilya Naishuller, was written by Derek Kolstad, who wrote all three “John Wick” films, and like those films “Nobody” attempts to rebrand its lead actor in the “geriaction” archetype of a retired killer who’s forced to make a comeback. Instead of Keanu Reeves, Bob Odenkirk is the star, playing the role of Hutch Mansell, a now middle-aged former hit man, once in the employ of the U.S. military, who has settled uneasily into suburban life and its numbing routines of desk-jockeying, commuting, and domestic practicalities. He’s married to a woman named Becca (Connie Nielsen), with whom he has two children, but the passion has gone out of their marriage. One night, Hutch is awakened by noises in his house and, while investigating them, sees and confronts a pair of masked, gun-wielding intruders. He resists the impulse to fight them, and afterward seemingly everyone—the police, a next-door neighbor, his brother-in-law, and, above all, his teen-age son and his wife—look at him with contempt and disappointment. (In bed, Becca erects a wall of pillows between them.) But the spark that ignites his dormant violent streak is his young daughter’s discovery that her “kitty-cat bracelet,” which was in a bowl of loose cash that he had shovelled at the intruders, is missing.

Hutch’s craving for redemptive violence is momentarily thwarted when he tracks down the intruders and finds that they have an infant. But then, on his late-night bus ride home, he has an incidental encounter with about a half-dozen brutal knuckleheads who harass and threaten passengers, and Hutch proceeds to destroy the assailants in a whirlwind action scene—one involving broken bones and slashings, a comedic choking, and an emergency tracheotomy—that’s as choreographically elaborate as it is frivolous and empty. Among those he vanquishes is the younger brother of a big shot named Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov), who’s responsible for the so-called Obshak, the Russian gangsters’ communal fund. Yulian, finding his brother hospitalized in critical condition, sends a team of Russian gangsters to capture Hutch, setting the stage for a head-to-head grudge match.

The movie depends on a paranoiac element of hidden forces, good and evil, squaring off beneath the surfaces of daily life. Hutch and Yulian both have a subterranean network of allies at their disposal. Hutch has a longstanding contact at a rather special kind of barbershop, and he finds another at a tattoo parlor. Yulian relies on a virtual army of killers and hackers, an efficient blackmail network, and a contact at the Pentagon. But what Hutch has and Yulian doesn’t is family: Yulian’s knucklehead brother is a mere annoyance to him, whereas Hutch can count on his father, David (Christopher Lloyd), a retired F.B.I. agent, and his brother, Harry (RZA), a covert operative of unspecified affiliation, to have his back at crucial turns. Violence isn’t merely Hutch’s trade; it’s the family creed. As Hutch dithers about getting back into action, David wistfully admonishes him, “Do you remember who we used to be, Hutchie? I do.” Hutch consciously and intentionally traded his solitary life of professional violence for the warm and loving tranquility of family life, but, as he muses, he “might have overcorrected.” The beast of violence is yearning to break out, and, the movie suggests, Hutch’s troubles at home come from the grim and bitter effort to keep it suppressed. Borrowing his father’s line, Hutch tells Becca, “Remember who we used to be? I do.” What brings Hutch back to himself, and juice back to the marriage, is blood. When Hutch unleashes his furies on the bus, Naishuller emphasizes Hutch’s return to his true self with a needle drop—of Sammy Davis, Jr., singing “I’ve Gotta Be Me.”

As in life, intelligence in movies isn’t one-dimensional; it may be woefully lacking from one aspect of a film but shiningly present in another. Although the fight scenes in “Nobody” offer clever touches, they are nonetheless too stiffly convention-bound to give the movie energy. When Yulian dispatches his minions to capture Hutch at home, for instance, Hutch puts Becca and the children into their electronically locked basement, and then—with a kitchen knife, a baseball bat, a teapot of boiling water, a plate of lasagna, and the invaders’ many assault rifles—leaves a gory pile of corpses and some walls in serious need of a paint job. To set up a climactic set-piece showdown, Hutch rigs some booby traps and hidden weapons that are as droll in their conceit as they are leaden in execution. Rather, what gives the story, at times, a fleetingly persuasive sense of texture is a zippy profusion of details adorning otherwise merely informational scenes. Hutch’s sharp eye for crucial yet tiny giveaways comes to life, alongside his spoken descriptions, in a flashy montage of his inner visions; thanks to sharply timed appearances of an I.D. card and a tattoo, for instance, a confrontation in the tattoo parlor shifts in tone from plain to harrowing to sentimental with mercurial rapidity.

Yet this imaginative perspicacity is overwhelmed by a thudding obliviousness to the implications of the action beyond the confines of the frame, and this hermetic quality seems built in by design—because it turns out to provide the movie with its thematic core. Where are the Mansells’ neighbors during crucial moments of conspicuous catastrophe? Nobody can be trusted, and nobody cares: even when extended barrages of military-grade munitions are resounding throughout the neighborhood, no one bothers to call the police. When—spoiler alert—a house burns down, in a furious conflagration, there’s no fire department on hand to deal with it. The story’s many varieties of carnage never prompt so much as an investigation. A framing device showing Hutch under government interrogation serves solely to mock the procedure.

In short, “Nobody” depends upon both a total vacuum of authority and a populace left desperately to its own devices, in the face of sociopaths both amateur (as on the bus) and professional (as under Yulian’s command). The movie’s vision of vigilante survivalism is rigidly gendered: it falls to men to defend women and children by deploying violence against violence. What makes this fantasy of cowboy-style self-defense so disturbing is that it isn’t limited to the movies. It’s the very same belief system that gets used, in real life, to justify the American obsession with gun ownership. Here, for instance, is Senator Lindsey Graham speaking, this past Sunday, on Fox News: “I own an AR-15. If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to, because I can defend myself.” Graham, like “Nobody,” imagines a scary batch of outlaws, an “othered” group, against whom private citizens must defend themselves. In “Nobody,” the two initial intruders are Hispanic, and the overarching “gang” comprises Russian émigrés, but viewers are free to map onto these menacing groups whatever ethnicity they themselves hate and fear. What “Nobody” does, with a sentimental story of family re-bonding and personal self-rediscovery, is to render delusional hate-based violence heartwarming, restorative, and sexy.

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Newsrust - US Top News: “Nobody,” Reviewed: Bob Odenkirk in a Delusional Fantasy of Redemptive Violence
“Nobody,” Reviewed: Bob Odenkirk in a Delusional Fantasy of Redemptive Violence
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