More Papa Yaga than Baba Yaga
It’s a familiar sub-genre. The action film where an unassuming middle/late aged man (usually), gets wronged in some way, and unleashes either his dark side, or tactical training from a past life, to teach them a lesson. They come with varying success, for every John Wick or Taken, there’s a Taken sequel, The Equalizer (love Denzel, but he aint no Woodward), or I Am Wrath. With the reverence for Keanu’s pencil wielding series, John Wick writer Derek Kolstad is a solid choice to kick off a new dad-driven action romp, one helmed by Ilya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry), and fronted by the scrappy charm of Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul).
Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk) is the titular ‘nobody’. Living his suburban life, working as an accountant at a local machine shop, every day seems like every other. His wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) is a successful realtor, but their marriage has clearly stagnated. He has a fractious relationship with his teenage son, and a young daughter who clearly adores him. Capping off the family unit is his father (Christopher Lloyd), who lives in a retirement home nearby. The quiet repetitiveness of his life is upended one night by a home invasion, an event where his attempts at restraint further the divide with his son, and leave him with regret at not doing more to protect his family. He responds by trying to recover one of the items stolen that belonged to his daughter, and during the process, a good deed results in Hutch hitting his limit, and the anger and abilities he had been holding back, come pouring out. His actions put him on a collision course with a local Russian mobster with Hutch determined to protect his family, do the right thing, and embrace an aspect of himself long suppressed.
There are some differences, the addition of a family, but so far so familiar. Where Nobody carves out its own path is in terms of tone and the lead. Gone is the slick efficiency and brooding feel of the Wick-verse, everything here is more more realistic and grounded. You see fluorescent lights more often than neon. Cancer and a murdered dog are replaced by a kitty bracelet. The film still has weight and stakes, but entertainment is at the forefront. There is a relish to seeing this somewhat downtrodden father figure shaking off the cobwebs, rediscovering what he’s capable of, and embracing it. He’s rusty and reluctant at first, but the improvisation, awareness, and a bit of grit driving him on, build with every punch to the head or knife wound he suffers. There’s an old saying, “age and wisdom will always overcome youth and treachery”, and that sums up Hutch’s approach in Nobody.
A huge part of what makes the film works is how compelling Odenkirk is, perfect as the loving father, sidelined husband, nervous father, and sick of this Russian’s shit ass kicker. There’s no basking in the violence or cheesy quips, just a wry sense of satisfaction and then on to the next opponent or part of the plan. A Dad Wick, lacking the panache, instead more clunky (and creaky) in terms of his action, MacGuyvering his way through conflict, and doing so with a hint of enjoyment and satisfation that is palpable, and spreads through he film. The cheer you heard when he showed up in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women? Imagine that sustained for 90 minutes. Connie Nielsen and his family are a little under-served after some early groundwork, while Christopher Lloyd and RZA make the most of some limited screentime.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, to me at least, was the step up for Ilya Naishuller. After the stomach churning and migraine inducing effects he delivered with Hardcore Henry, it is great to see that brisk energy maintained, while adding a lot of focus to proceedings. The opening sequence is a playful and damn effective snapshot at Hutch’s dull and repetitive life, the later action sequences well composed and clear, physicality and stunt work shining through. Even some of the one the nose (Dad rock) musical selections (YNWA!) are dispensed in short order to allow the action to do the talking. An encouraging show of restraint that makes for a far more effective and entertaining experience.
Both presentations in this release (Blu-ray and 4K) offer a great level of quality. 4K is a notably step-up though, with healthy colors, natural tones, good light/dark contrast, sharp detail to facial features and brilliant clarity. There were a few instances where there seemed to be a localized blurriness, Hutch walking away from the bus, a few moments in the nightclub too. Extra features are pretty strong with:
- Audio commentary with Actor/Producer Bob Odenkirk and Director Ilya Naishuller: A fun track that complements the film well. Plenty of details on the production and specific scenes, Odenkirk keeps it light and banter, especially with his personal tales
- Solo audio commentary with Director Ilya Naishuller: A little dryer, as you’d expect, but there is more detail here, with more detail on the lead in to filming, reworking the script, thematic intent, and also the style and films that Naishuller wanted to draw from
- Deleted Scenes: About 5 minutes of excised material from the film, provided without any commentary
- Hutch Hits Hard: Around 4 minutes showing the training and (admirable) effort Odenkirk put into his preparation for the role
- Breaking Down the Action: Breaks down into four parts, each looking at the planning and stunt work that went into the bus sequence, the home invasion, the car chase, and the final fight. Just shy of 20 minutes in total, what’s here is fun and interesting stuff, leaving you wanting more
- Just a Nobody: About 13 minutes in length, and largely a dive into the conception of the film, what brought Odenkirk on board, the recruitment of the director and ensemble, and other aspects of putting the production together
- Package includes 4K and Blu-ray discs, and digital download code
The Bottom Line
Nobody is clearly in the same wheelhouse as John Wick, but here it’s more Papa Yaga than Baba Yaga. The alternate angle and change in tone give the film a freshness, and the direction showcases well composed, and brutally executed action. Bob Odenkirk attacking it all with a delicious relish and adds a truly endearing quality. Nobody is simply put, a bloody good time.
Nobody is available on 4K/Blu-ray/Digital, and Blu-ray/digital, and DVD packs from June 22nd