Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures

March 25, 2021

Better Call Nobody

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Note: the following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

If you think you’ve seen a film like Nobody before, that’s because in many ways, you have. Directed by Ilya Naishuller, the movie stars Bob Odenkirk as a mild-mannered dad and Hutch Mansell, who, unbeknownst to his family, harbors a dark past. After failing to stop a home invasion, he takes out his frustrations on assailants who end up being connected to a Russian drug lord. Subsequently, he must protect his family from the Russian drug lord using a very particular set of skills.

Naishuller and Odenkirk have named flicks like Oldboy, Taxi Driver, Atomic Blonde and John Wick as inspirations for the film’s aesthetic and visual style. Indeed, everything from one-take, no-holds-barred fight sequences to colorful night club scenes that contrast with the film’s noirish ambience, indicate that Naishuller and Odenkirk aren’t looking to reinvent the action genre wheel but keep it spinning and alive.

However, one novelty of Nobody lies in its lead actor playing against type. While films like John Wick and Taken featured stars who had done action for a while, Odenkirk is best known for his comedic roles. As part of a college press round table, he shared insights into his transition to the action genre, specifically working with the likes of script writer Derek Kolstad and stuntman Daniel Bernhardt. Impressively, he trained for two and a half years for the role and did all of his own on-screen fighting. “I wanted to have [a] full experience when doing an action movie,” he stated —  “I wanted to push myself and stretch myself and the hardest thing about it was not the drudgery or hours of gym time…the hardest thing was the embarrassment of sucking at it for so long. Ilya Naishuller and Derek Kolstad love action movies the way I love comedy. I didn’t want to make this movie like a dilettante.”

Additionally, Odenkirk’s personal connection to the story and the context of the film’s release show that Nobody has more on its mind than merely creating an homage to the films that helped inspire it, and these wrinkles differentiate it from other films that feature old white men who escape their midlife crises through violence. Odenkirk shared how he experienced two home invasions and this resulting trauma acted as the backbone for the script. In Nobody, when thieves break into Hutch’s house, Hutch picks up a golf club to retaliate but eventually lets them escape. “I grabbed a baseball bat instead,” Odenkirk shared laughing, “But apart from that…I did exactly what the character did and tried to keep the damage to a minimum. I left that particular incident feeling doubtful that I had done the right thing even though I had done the right thing. Sadly this doesn’t always feel like the right thing to do and in a movie you get to play out your fantasy.”

Contextually, The Sun pointed out how the film spoke to a collective angst caused by the pandemic, where many feel trapped by the very rhythms that offer stability and comfort. In particular, there is a sequence depicting Hutch’s weekday routine where he  repeatedly punches in numbers on a spreadsheet, pours coffee and fails to take out the trash. These scenes are played again and again at various tempos, emphasizing the drudgery of it all. The Sun asked “Watching or looking back on Nobody, were there any new perspectives or meanings you gout out of Nobody, now that it is being released in a very different time from when it was filmed?”

To this, Odenkirk noted how those connections to life under COVID-19 were “fortuitous and utterly unplanned,” sharing, “Somebody said the other day, ‘This is a movie I didn’t even know I needed,’ which is a funny thing to say about an action movie because at the core of it is pure Escapism. But it really seems to address a pent up anger that a lot of people are feeling. If there’s something a movie like this can do, it can help you fantasize the feelings inside of you and sort of play them out or let them go and feel cleansed of those feelings.”

Especially given the horrific events that have occurred in Atlanta and Boulder recently, Nobody can feel like the worst form of escapism and Odenkirk acknowledged the potentially troubling implications a movie like Nobody can have. One caveat he offers, and one the film highlights well, is in the presentation of the action escalation. Whereas in most other films  there’s an excitement as the film reaches its big set-piece climax, there is a certain sense of tragedy in the elevation of the stakes. “I like that when he [Hutch] expresses his rage, it creates more trouble for him than if he had just found a different, healthier way to deal with those feelings,” Odenkirk reflected. “He actually puts his family in real danger because he allows his rageful instincts to play out.”

Nobody will release theatrically on March 26, 2021.

Zachary Lee ’20 is a recent graduate of Cornell and of The Sun arts department. He can be reached at [email protected].