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Review: Nobody Is a Glib Action Fantasy that Equates Manliness with Violence

The film offers chaos by the yard with no real stakes or emotional reverberations.

1.5
Nobody
Photo: Universal Pictures

As Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody goes to great pains to inform us, Hutch (Bob Odenkirk) needs to show his cojones. Every day is the same for this schmuck extraordinaire. His wife, Becca (Connie Nielsen), views him with a mixture of pity and contempt, and the industrial manufacturing plant where he works is owned and controlled by her father, Eddie (Michael Ironside), and brother, Charlie (Billy MacLellan), who regard him as a hapless wimp. When Hutch and Becca’s teenage son, Blake (Gage Munroe), is assigned to write a paper about a family member serving in the military, it’s said that Hutch was only an “auditor,” while Eddie and Charlie saw real action. And the final insult is when Hutch and Becca’s house is broken into and Blake shows more courage than his hesitant father.

The action genre is inherently fascistic, given its overriding fixation on heroes gratifying their whims as the social contracts under which they live are discarded. Yet even the most sadistic action films often take pains to make at least an obliging pretense of critiquing vigilantism. But Nobody simply doubles down on the genre’s most immoral implication, for unquestioningly equating manliness with brute violence. Michael Winner’s much-derided Death Wish, one of Nobody’s obvious models, ultimately showed its protagonist’s wrath to be a self-effacing madness. And for all its kinetic and amoral-at-best bloodletting, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s John Wick, which was written by Nobody screenwriter Derek Kolstad, implied that the eponymous hero’s slide back into violence complemented his skill set at the cost of his soul. By contrast, Nobody regards Hutch’s desperate need to kill with neither resignation nor irony, resulting in a repetitive, self-consciously glib action fantasy.

You see, Hutch isn’t actually like you and me, thank god. “Auditor” is a code word for high-paid assassin, a profession that Hutch abandoned years earlier for a “normal life.” This premise, and its attending snideness, is reminiscent of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, as well as Bill’s Superman monologue at the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2, both of which posited an über-male’s embrace of normalcy as a self-castrating act of contempt for the very sort of man he’s impersonating. Like the characters in those films, Hutch realizes that he’s taken his beta act too far, which leads to Nobody’s one remarkable set piece, a battle royale on a public bus that disquietingly mixes stylized choreography with graphic, corporeal violence.

Otherwise, Naishuller offers chaos by the yard with no real stakes or emotional reverberations, as Hutch goes against a standard-issue Russian gangster called Yubian (Aleksey Serebryakov). In a particularly lame reveal, most everyone important to Hutch’s life already knows of his violent past, save for his marginalized children, and so his killing spree is divorced of shock value. Everything that happens in this film is so dutifully easy and tossed-off, as Hutch has no memorable interpersonal conflicts. There’s not even, say, the disreputable yet resonant implication that Hutch’s return to warfare has invigorated his sex life—an idea that even The Incredibles, theoretically a children’s film, bothered to broach.

After Nobody’s programmatic first act, which may leave you longing to watch Better Call Saul and Odenkirk’s thorny performance as Saul Goodman, a truly piercing dramatization of frustration and failure, Hutch is reduced to just another unkillable killer. Which is far more ordinary for the cinema than a nine-to-five clock puncher with an authentic sense of soul.

Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Aleksey Serebryakov, Connie Nielsen, Christopher Lloyd, RZA, Michael Ironside, Colin Salmon, Billy MacLellan, Araya Mengesha, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath, Aleksandr Pal Director: Ilya Naishuller Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 91 min Rating: R Year: 2021 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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