The notion of an older gentleman knuckling down to fetch a beating to various bad guys is hardly a new thing in Hollywood. I mean, older guys complaining that they’re older while taking out a drug baron or two is sort of new, even though Roger Murtaugh endlessly griped about his advancing years in 1987’s Lethal Weapon, but Keanu Reeves hitting 50 while hitting bad guys in John Wick and and the entire grizzled cast of The Expendables franchise isn’t as new as you’d might expect. Roger Moore started playing James Bond at 45 and lets not get into the age Charles Bronson was when he hobbled on set for the fifth Death Wish movie… Anyway, all this chat about creaky knees and slipped discs in the world of Russian gangsters and automatic weapons leads us nicely to Nobody, the latest geri-action movie that sees a weathered ex-pro show that he’s still got the moves to score a bodycount in the double figures – but “nobody” could have predicted that a prime contender from action flick of the year would star… Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad?
Hutch Mansell is your typical, middle-aged, faceless suburbanite drone, who’s daily routine seems to be an endless photocopy of mediocrity and who’s marriage, while still pleasant, has got stuck in somewhat of a lifeless rut. One night, the family home is broken into by two opportunistic thieves who Hutch manages to get the drop on with a golf club but ultimately backs down at the last minute. News travels fast and as his son and wife lose more of what little respect they have for him, he has to swallow a choking lump of patronising posturing from everyone to the investigating officers to his douchey brother-in-law – however, there’s something that everyone doesn’t know. The reason Hutch backed down is that he had the whole event under control and even managed to notice that the robber’s gun was empty because he – are you ready for this – used to be a man employed by the government to assassinate lethal loose ends with maximum prejudice before he quit to pursue a normal life. Frustrated that his dream life has cost him some self respect, the fact that the robbers may have taken his daughter’s toy necklace is the last fucking straw and when getting violent retribution against the thieves proves to be a no-go scenario, Hutch chooses the next best thing and half kills a bunch of boozy thugs harassing a young woman on a night bus. However, in true John Wick style, this not-so-random act of cathartic violence causes a chaotic ripple effect when one of the thugs rendered a vegetable by Hutch’s beatdown turns out to be the younger brother of a deranged russian mobster who is as old school to the core than our directionless hero is. With Hutch’s entire family in the crosshairs of some very nasty people, his new lease on life becomes a battle to the death – and Hutch is loving every fucking minute of it.
Fronted by magnificent Bob Odenkirk who’s clocking in at a very respectable 58, scripted by John Wick writer Derek Kolstad, co-produced by John Wick co-director David Leitch and directed by Hardcore Henry’s Ilya Naishuller, Nobody turns out to be the hot bloodied fusion of the middle aged identity crisis of American Beauty with the ultra-gruesome unearthing of a secret past seen so memorably in David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence laced with the injury laced, darkly humoured brawls of 80’s action cinema that pound for pound (literally) will stand as being one of the most relentlessly entertaining movies of the year.
Painfully relatable to someone such as I who’s joints pop like rifle shots even when I’m getting out of a chair even though I’m only 44, Nobody takes the incredibly slick and fluid violence of your average John Wick clone and rubs a ton of grit and some much welcome broader comedy to the mix that gives the film a massively endearing personality. Whereas most of these movies (and their heroes) sometimes take themselves a little too seriously and whereas they usually lament lapsing back into into their old lives, Hutch can’t wait to fuck somebody up which is usually highlighted by the hugely amusing soundtrack that has you cheering Hutch on as he strides into ever more dangerous waters to the strains of Andy Williams’ The Impossible Dream or Steve Lawrence’s I’ve Gitta Be Me. Never is this more apparent than the magnificent bus fight that, when all is said and done, may very well be the best bout of fisticuffs you’ll see all year as we find a massively frustrated Hutch desperately looking for a scrap suddenly gifted seemingly by the Norse god of brawls when those five drunk thugs stagger onto his night bus. What follows is a stunningly brutal and hilariously overlong series of extended beatings that recalls the resplendently ugly six minute punch-up in They Live as the initially rusty Hutch gets himself painfully up to speed by pounding seven shades of bloody shit out of a quintet of scumbags. There’s no shakey cam, no posing, no physics bending, no flash athletics – just a shit load of down and dirty scrapping that’s as wincingly painful as it is uproariously funny – Odenkirk’s priceless line reading of “I’m going fuck you up.” is as close to action cinema Shakespeare as you’re going get and he’s stunningly credible as events – and Hutch – get more out of control.
Yes, there’s an argument to be made that Nobody is not much more than middle-aged wish fulfillment, not to mention that despite allowing Christoper Lloyd (as Hutch’s shotgun wielding, ex-FBI pops) to get in on the frenzied climax the film offers a pretty flimsy role for Connie Nielsen, especially considering she’s memorably played the queen of Themyscira a number of times, but Nobody is supposed to be a chunk of old school, tongue-in-cheek fun that jokingly suggests that anyone can solve all their problems by punching them really hard in the face.
After a year that saw us all languishing in lockdown finally relaxes it’s hold, Nobody turns out to be just as a cathartic dive into hilarious ultra-violence for us as it is for Odenkirk’s massively relatable sad sack as he rediscovers his mojo with better living though weapony with fantastic results.
Better Brawl, Saul.