Many films are born out of what-ifs, and most of those what-ifs are opposites of what’s already there. For Nobody, it looks at John Wick, specifically the first film, and picks avenues previously left alone. Our hitman protagonist still has a wife. He has a teenage son and a little girl as his young’uns. His animal companion is a cat. He’s upper middle class. Obviously, he’s not Keanu Reeves.
And that is one of the precious-few fresher touches Derek Kolstad, the writer of John Wick (surprise!), has brought to Nobody — calling up ace attorney Saul Goodman and turning him into amiable assassin Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk). There is a montage, but its purpose isn’t to show off his bad-assery but rather his weekly itinerary. Hutch would wake, make breakfast, bus to work, audit, go home, and sleep. He may not take out the trash in time. He ponders if there’s a way to break down the pillow wall between him and his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen). He’s not all that into work, but he does it for his teenage son (Gage Munroe) and his little woman (Paisley Cadorath). Hutch is, fundamentally, that neighbour you’d quickly “Hi” to if your eyes meet his. Hutch is so fine being a nobody he needn’t utter any version of the “I’m just like you” line.
Of course, the nobody has to become the one body to eliminate so you get the entertainment you came for. Hutch has a rageful soul, one that manifests itself either as a stern voiceover that can deep-fry chips in the dead of cold or some characteristically sharp action from 87Eleven (the stunt crew from John Wick). He hands out the latter, to splendid, resourceful, that-must’ve-hurt effect, to associates of cartoony big-time Yulian (Aleksey Serebryakov), which will then escalate to Yulian himself. If it sounds familiar and has Wick’s “I’m thinking I’m back” energy, it is — highly likely on purpose. Kolstad is not hiding it, although he does inject more humour into the motions. Repetition is still repetition, even if Wick isn’t visible and there’s a funnier bone to pick here, but it does irk knowing exactly how Nobody will behave miles and eons ahead. But the tendency to forgive will ultimately win out, since Odenkirk is that good. Here is an actor who not only fits the action-man jacket well beyond expectations, as if he has always been an action star waiting for the right vehicle, but is also vibrant enough to make a symphony out of the one note. Hero messes with mob, mob goes for him, maybe he’ll squad up (RZA and Christopher Lloyd are available!), and then a Home Alone-slash-Equalizer finale. As enjoyable as Odenkirk can be as a man relearning the art of war, even more so is him as a man who is yet to embrace serenity.
Thanks to Odenkirk, Nobody gets to rise above the bare-bones way it answers its what-ifs. And so, it will succeed. Be satisfying. Thing is, when Nobody becomes somebody, and if director Ilya Naishuller is still on board, let’s hope the creators will let the person at the helm exercise his style to the fullest (like the first-person chaos seen in Hardcore Henry or The Weeknd’s False Alarm) or to a special-enough point (like some of his videos for Biting Elbows, namely the madcap Control) — instead of asking him to emulate John Wick but tone down the colours. Or when Hutch Mansell evolves into his myth, The Auditor (?), like John Wick into Baba Yega, it will still revolve around the character — instead of the increasingly larger universe. No, we shall not think about John Wick vs. Hutch Mansell, however plausible-sounding it is in today’s cinematic landscape packed with universes and mash-ups.
Better yet, make this a one-off. Think about how much Hutch prefers to introduce himself as “Nobody.” Come on, his car is the four-wheeled star of a film called Vanishing Point. Let’s entertain this what-if: honor a man’s wish to be anonymous.
Nobody is available in select theatres in the US now, is rolling out worldwide in April and May, reaches the UK on 4 June 2021.