It’s hard to believe that Hutch Mansell is the sort of guy who could kill you with his bare hands if he wanted to. Firstly, because he’s such a mild-mannered guy with a seemingly monotonous life, as a montage of his day-to-day activities at the start of the film “Nobody” demonstrates. He’s married with two kids, works in the office of his father-in-law’s fabrication company, and always forgets to take the trash down to the end of the driveway. The second reason is because Hutch is played by Bob Odenkirk, who’s best known role is that of the slimy but physically unintimidating Saul Goodman on the TV shows “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul.” So it’s a delight midway through “Nobody” when Hutch proves that he is that John Wick-esque action star who can seemingly get out of any situation and who is feared by all who know of him, and Odenkirk rises to the challenge.
Directed by Ilya Naishuller, the plot of “Nobody” kicks into gear after Hutch’s home is broken into by two petty thieves. Hutch chooses not to fight the pair and lets them get away, only to be met with derision by those around him: his teenage son (Gage Munroe), his wife (Connie Nielsen), police officers, his brother-in-law, his neighbor. Hutch decides to redeem himself in their eyes by going out for revenge; but when confronting the original thieves (who didn’t really even steal anything) doesn’t work out, he takes on a group of men harassing a woman on a bus. It turns out that one of those men is the brother of powerful Russian mob-enforcer Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who sends his gang after Hutch and his family.
It’s somewhere around here that we learn that Hutch was not always the mild-mannered office worker he appears to be. He used to be an auditor: an assassin who was sent out to kill people considered too hard to arrest. He retired after realizing that he wanted a home and a family, and hasn’t killed since then. This messaging that underlies the film and drives Hutch to action rubs me the wrong way. Hutch chooses a less stereotypically masculine way of life, and he is looked down upon because he doesn’t opt for violence. It isn’t until he pulls out his gun and gets to work that he starts to earn the respect of those around him. It is in this way that “Nobody” equates violence with masculinity. Hutch’s return to his former, assassin self is ultimately viewed as a triumph and not something that he is resorting to just because he has to, despite his initial reluctance—and the end of the film suggests that he won’t be leaving that life behind again.
Despite this disappointing messaging and some muddied character development, “Nobody” largely works, and not because of its very typical revenge plot. The action is a combination of ridiculously unrealistic (Hutch MacGyver’s his way through many situations using whatever he has within reach) and gritty. The film’s first big action setpiece, the scene on the bus, is backed by no music or score, accentuating the sound of the blows as Hutch punches and slashes his way through everyone around him. Naishuller and screenwriter Derek Kolstad also lend the movie a humorous streak through dialogue and action that occasionally serve as a send-up of our usual expectations of action movies like this.
But a good part of all this wouldn’t work without Odenkirk, who makes the far-fetched seem believable. His transition from average joe to feared assassin feels natural, not jarring. We buy into Odenkirk’s performance at the start of the film because it appears to be the sort of role we’re used to seeing from him, but those opening scenes also illustrate the boredom and frustration and rage that is boiling up inside him; the robbery and the guys on the bus were just the tipping point. Odenkirk handles the action scenes admirably, and with his sharp features (frequently cut up and bruised over the course of the film) and the edge in his distinctive voice, it’s almost a wonder that he hasn’t been cast in a role like this before. He is supported by brief appearances by RZA as Hutch’s half-brother Harry and Christopher Lloyd as his father, both also in the same line of work as him. You know things are going to get fun when 82-year-old Lloyd pulls out his shotgun, and it’s easy to imagine future films featuring this eccentric but entertaining group of characters.
The plot and the bad guys in “Nobody” are pretty thin and one-dimensional, and thematically it has some issues. But this lean movie is packs a good amount of world-building and elaborate action scenes into its 92 minutes. It’s just fun to see a silly action movie on a big screen again. And it’s great to witness an actor as talented as Odenkirk continue to reinvent his screen persona.
“Nobody” is now in theaters and will be available to watch on demand on April 16. Runtime: 92 minutes. Rated R.