For movie enthusiasts, one of the myriad of annoying aspects of of the COVID-19 lockdown was how so many titles kept getting pushed back. When theaters began reopening, the thin offerings often came with the same trailers. Ever hear of Save Yourselves! (2020)? I barely remember it, though I do recall enjoying it. So while we slogged our way through obscurity, we were treated to previews for bigger budget movies that maybe, possibly, might come out one day, like tales from a world that could be. One of those was Nobody, and it finally came out. Here is to more like it arriving in theaters.
When I first saw the aforementioned trailer for Nobody, I saw the character of Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) and thought, huh? As the film makes it clear from the outset, he is as average appearing as, well, Bob Odenkirk. He has an average family, average number of kids, average job, and an average house. That repetition speaks to what the majority of his days are like, and it is a rhythm in which he is drowning. What disrupts it one evening is a break-in at his average house. The robbers do not take much, though his little daughter Abby (Paisley Cadorath) reports her kitty bracelet missing. This awakens what Mansell (what a name) refers to as a long dormant piece of him. He was once what the government euphemistically referred to as an “auditor.” Basically, if some agency felt like traditional methods of handling a discrete situation were not working, they would call on Mansell and everyone involved would die. In his quest to retrieve the lost bit of kid jewelry, he encounters a group of ruffians that board the bus he is taking home. They begin to make inappropriate moves towards the young lady with which he is riding. The resulting brawl concludes with him being a little less for the wear, but the five young men ending up in the hospital. The problem with this tussle is that they all had connections to a Russian mobster named Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov). Kuznetsov handles all the money for the Russian mafia, and by “all the money,” I do, in fact, mean all the money. They have an entire hall filled with stacks of cash worthy of Scrooge McDuck, though in paper form. A man like that also has connections, and he uses them to discover Mansell’s identity. Kuznetsov sends a hit squad to Mansell’s average home to dispatch this new nemesis. Seeing the couple car loads of gunmen pull up, we find that this average home comes with an unexpected feature: a safe room that he secures his family in before doing battle with these intruders. Mansell takes care of most of them, but they do manage to capture him alive, classic evil overlord mistake. Using his particular set of skills (if you will forgive the Taken parlance), he manages to wreck the car he is in and be the only one to walk away from it. He then proceeds to see his family off safely and then burn down not only his own house but Kuznetsov’s money palace. He follows up these acts of destruction by buying the company he had been working for with a pile of gold bars, preparing it with various booby-traps, and luring Kuznetsov and his men there for a final showdown. Mansell is joined in this ambush by his adoptive brother Harry (RZA) and father David (Christopher Lloyd). Together they mow down the gangsters, and seem to have a blast (pun intended) doing so. Mansell then returns to his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and they buy a new home, making sure it comes with a basement, of course.
There are two ways of looking at Nobody: it is a fast-paced murder fest or a story about an aging family man going through a midlife crisis. Either theme works in thinking about it, and it could be both, I suppose. But let us look at them separately. As a fast-paced murder fest, the film is not entirely original. It is also a little less believable this way. Mansell, when he was at the height of his career, was seemingly death incarnate. Yet, one of the jobs he was sent to do convinced him to leave that life behind. The suggestion is that he had been out of practice for roughly fifteen years, as his eldest child Blake (Gage Munroe) is in high school. Granted, you do see Mansell attempting to stay in shape by running and doing pull-ups. Still, it is one of the immutable truths of life that age catches up with us all. Maybe the movie compensates for this by showing Mansell getting wounded several times, the implication being that he would have walked away from all these dangerous situations without a scratch? Perhaps, and I get what they were going for with having a character like Mansell. The idea is that you do not expect a guy like him being a threat. Yet, the action (while intense) is pretty standard for the genre, it is just a bunch of old guys doing it.
The other aspect of Nobody, the story of an aging family man going through a midlife crisis, makes the film work on a deeper level. I am not sure where I fall personally on this spectrum, but we are all aware of how sometimes people get to a certain age and they begin to wonder where it all went. What many do not seem to understand, and I count Mansell among them, is that we all have seasons to our numbered years. As Ecclesiastes 3:1 puts it, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” Or, as the The Mamas & the Papas sang it, “To everything . . . there is a season.” Let us remember that Christianity is at the foundation of Western culture, and whether we acknowledge it or not, such sayings have a tradition that trace their source to God. Nonetheless, Mansell accepts this concept eventually, but there is another lesson he learns along the way. He has an unfortunate talent for death, and denying it had been causing him great deal of mental and emotional anguish. God made us who we are, but He did not intend for us to get good at murder. That is part and parcel of the Catholic Church’s pro-life message, and it applies to every human. While I wish that Mansell’s skills could be put to other uses, I will admit that he is discerning. When he finally catches up with the robbers, he discovers that they have an infant on oxygen and decides to leave them along without further damage. And on the bus, though brutal, the fight was an act of chivalry. There are other ways of saving damsels in distress, but at least an innocent young lady is spared who knows what horrors.
Nobody is a solid, though extremely violent, piece of cinema. The point that I made about its lack of originality is a minor one. I mean, how many different ways can you film a gun battle, though I am sure (and I hope) filmmakers will keep trying. I can see dads being into this movie because Mansell goes to extreme measures to protect his family. I could be becoming soft in my old age, but I wish there were better ways of dealing with evil in this world. In the meantime, hopefully there are enough people who meet it with their fists (or firearms) with a moral compass like Mansell.