Monday, July 15, 2024

‘Nobody’ is a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Good Time

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Nobody is a silly, action-packed movie that gets in and out before anyone has a chance to get bored of its admittedly flimsy premise. But the film knows this, leans into it. If you’re looking for a movie that builds up to Bob Odenkirk, Christopher Lloyd, and RZA fighting a mob of Russians with Home Alone-style death traps, then buddy, do I have a movie for you.

Ilya Naishuller burst upon the scene with Hardcore Henry; a movie shot entirely from the character’s point of view. Nobody isn’t quite as audacious, but it does show a tight grasp of editing and economical storytelling. Naishuller doesn’t shy away from using editing and the frame to convey his character’s inner emotional turmoil while also framing some truly brutal slug-fests.

Penned by Derek Kolstad, the writer behind the John Wick franchise, Nobody lacks his earlier works’ emotional, dramatic flair. But that’s fine. Kolstad’s script and Naishuller’s direction are more interested in scratching a very particular itch, that of older white men raining down unholy vengeance on the bad men, ala Charles Bronson. 

Thankfully, much like those movies, both men seem to understand that dallying about silly things as plot and story would only drag things down.

The movie opens up with a battered and bruised Odenkirk, delightfully named Hutch Mansell sitting in a darkened room, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, all while Nina Simon’s sings “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Pawel Pogorzelski’s camera pulls back to reveal that he’s sitting at a table in a police interrogation room, a can of cat food before him. He opens the cat food, reaches into the inside pocket of his coat, pulls out a kitten, and places it on the table, petting it tenderly. 

The cops ask him who he is. Hutch lights his cigarette, blows some smoke, looks into the camera, and says, “Me? I’m-” Then Naishuller cuts to the title sequence.

If this scene doesn’t make you want to see Nobody, then I’m afraid the rest of this review will be a waste of your time. As for me, I was in it to win it from this first scene. That Nobody understands what it is and never tries to be anything more is nice. But what makes it so much fun is that it’s so damn well made.

Early on in the film, we see Hutch live his life as if he’s on autopilot. He wakes up every morning and makes breakfast for his family. On Wednesday, his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) reminds Hutch that he missed the trash. Every day Hutch goes to work at the factory owned by his father-in-law Eddie (Michael Ironside), where he works as an accountant. 

Naishuller and his editors William Yeh and Evan Schiff show this by editing these scenes together in rapid succession, speeding up each cut and shortening each scene as the cycle repeats itself. This gives us the sense of Hutch’s feelings of being trapped and growing disenchantment with his life. Moments like these are what make Nobody such a joy to watch. Well, that and moments such as when Hutch has a man at gunpoint yelling, “Give me the goddamn kitty cat bracelet, motherfucker!”

The gist of Nobody is that Odenkirk’s Hutch is a family man with a secret past who finds himself awakening to the pleasures of the fight when his family is robbed. No one is seriously injured; in fact, Hutch stops himself from beating one of the robbers once he notices the gun they have isn’t loaded. This looks like cowardice to his teenage son, and now poor Hutch is feeling even more emasculated.

But the last straw is his daughter says she can’t find her kitty cat bracelet. That sends Hutch fleeing his quiet suburbs and into the city’s mean streets looking for his daughter’s kitty cat bracelet. It’s ludicrous, but all movies of this ilk are.

From there, a series of events occur in which Hutch inadvertently calls down the wrath of a sociopathic Russian mobster Yulian (Aleksei Serbryakov). His past as a clean-up man for the Inteleggience community is brought to light. If all this sounds unbelievable or too much, then once again, Nobody isn’t for you. 

Part of the humor throughout the film is people reading Hutch’s file and either quitting on the spot or recognizing a tattoo and locking themselves behind an armored door. Odenkirk as Hutch sells the gag because he never overplays Hutch’s everyman persona.

Naishuller and Kolstad go out of their way to foreshadow, not events, but supplies, that Hutch will use throughout the film. The most obvious one being his next-door neighbor’s suddenly inherited a 1972 Dodge Challenger. There has never been a scene where a classic car, especially a Dodge Challenger, has been introduced, only never to be seen again in cinema history.

By the way, this doesn’t hamper Nobody. It merely improves it, like showing a dog a bone; it whets your appetite. Nobody is a macho wish-fulfillment fantasy that is often either boring or just plain misogynistic or racist—Naishuller side steps by simplifying allowing everybody a chance to play. The henchmen are an eclectic bunch of nameless faces waiting to be offed. Julian’s right-hand man is a Black Russian Pavel (Araya Mengesha), which is itself another running gag. The characters are forever surprised that Black Russians exist.

In its way, I suppose you could say Nobody pokes fun at the machismo so often infused in the genre. Odenkirk’s Hutch being constantly belittled by his male counterparts for not seeming “manly” or violent enough. His brother-in-law Charlie (Billy MacLellan) mocks him for not standing up and protecting his family, not realizing that Hutch held back because the robbers were, in reality, no danger.

Even the use of Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s seemingly doddering retired FBI agent father, David, is a comment on what we consider masculine. Lloyd is known for many things, but wielding sawed-off shotguns is not one of them. It is the ultimate don’t judge a book by its cover.

At one point, Hutch points out to his father, “You brought a lot of shotguns.” “You brought a lot of Russians.”

My only complaint is that Naishuller and Kolstad try to hint at a broken relationship between Nielsen’s Becca and Odenkirk’s Hutch. The problem is we never know exactly why their marriage grew cold and distant, nor is it clear until later just how much Becca knows about Hutch’s past. The scenes in which Hutch and Becca discuss their marriage feel hollow and performative simply because we have no real idea of what has led them to this point or why Hutch’s transformation seems to reignite the passion in their marriage.

To some degree, this is because Hutch feels more like himself, and thus Becca, who has long sensed something was wrong, grew distant, and her husband’s reclamation of his true self has made him desirable. Either way, you slice it is still an unforgivable waste of Connie Nielsen. She doesn’t even get to fire a gun or stab a guy. 

On the bright side, Nobody understands that the ceiling for framing brutal well-choreographed fight scenes to the tunes of classic crooners is pretty damned high. The movie even drops a little Pat Benatar to mix it up. It provides a sort of symmetry seeing as Pogorzelski’s camerawork and Yeh and Schiff’s editing feels almost like a throwback to the days of efficient and classic economical storytelling.

It’s no John Wick, but Nobody knows that and never tries to be immediate its predecessors. It’s short, sweet, and to the bare-knuckled point.  

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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