Fans of crime drama television are likely well acquainted with Bob Odenkirk’s particular brand of aw shucks, Everyman response to a seemingly never-ending tide of violence and danger. It’s something he’s done masterfully for several years now via the “Breaking Bad” spinoff series “Better Call Saul,” but despite the brilliance of Odenkirk’s work on that show, there’s always been the sense that another side of his talent has perhaps been at least somewhat obscured. He’s an actor who flourished in comedy, then made the transition into dark drama via an often comedic character.
What if that evolution continued, and Odenkirk got to attach a level of full-tilt action movie swagger to the skills he’s already developed?
The answer to that question is “Nobody,” the new action film written by “John Wick” creator Derek Kolstad and directed by Ilya Naishuller. Precise, well-paced and built on a beautifully balanced blend of domestic comedy and all-out fight sequences, the film is a showcase for the range Odenkirk has built over the course of his career, and proof that he deserves every ounce of the respect he’s earned.
Odenkirk is Hutch, a family man living in a quiet neighborhood, working a boring job, and living a generally lackluster life. The film’s opening underlines this point as Hutch goes through his daily rituals – coffee, jogging, getting nudged about the same little housekeeping issue by his well-meaning wife (Connie Nielsen) over and over – with a sense of dutiful dullness. It’s easy to see he longs for something more, but it’s unclear what the “more” is until one night when burglars break into his home and leave him feeling not just emasculated, but craving a former fire that he’s kept hidden. What begins as a simple search for a stolen item that belongs to his daughter soon expands into a dark web of violence, as Hutch’s past as something far more interesting than a suburban father and husband comes to light.
This is, like “John Wick” before it, another entry in the “dangerous man comes out of retirement” subgenre, but that doesn’t mean Kolstad is content to rest on his own laurels in that department. “John Wick” plays almost like a supernatural thriller, the story of a relentless, near superhuman force of nature on a quest for vengeance. “Nobody” is about something else. It’s scrappier, less stylized, more focused on the primal darkness at work in Hutch’s mind as he realizes he can never go back to the boring life he tried to build for himself.
That presents the film with plenty of opportunities for both inventive action and surprising comedy, and it’s here that Naishuller’s acute visual instincts come to the fore. His direction is slick, but his storytelling is not afraid to be messy, particularly in the earliest fight scenes as Hutch tries to shake off some of the rust he’s accrued over the years. There’s a rough edge to it that makes the film firmly grounded in Hutch’s perspective, not just physically but emotionally. We can see him struggle, see him triumph, and see him navigate the fine line between courage and absolute recklessness, sometimes failing along the way. It’s a beautifully constructed film.
But even that beautiful construction is incomplete without a lead performance, and Odenkirk proves once again that he has what it takes to carry this kind of story. At first glance he might seem a little reserved, even disinterested, but as the film barrels forward to its climax it’s clear that he’s working that sense of detachment into his performance. He’s giving us a portrait of a sleepwalking man who slowly wakes up, and the result is a masterclass in action cinema leading man work. It’s a gem among gems, including supporting performances from Christopher Lloyd and RZA.
“Nobody” is exactly the kind of kickstart action movies need in 2021. It’s fast, funny, and ferocious, and a must-see film both for longtime fans of the genre and for the curious viewers who just want to see how far Bob Odenkirk can push himself. The answer, apparently, is as far as he pleases.
‘Nobody’ is in theaters March 26.