Let Women Fight
An analysis of an almost flawless film.
Nobody starring Bob Odenkirk delivers a near-perfect film that satisfies the need to see a regular guy seek justice. He’s living a boring life, shown to us in this highly stressful, fast-paced montage in the first few minutes where we get the sense his wife and kids pretty much hate him. He can’t even manage to put the garbage cans out in time.
If you're a fan of The Equalizer, Falling Down, or the John Wick series, you’ll love Nobody. Major spoiler alerts for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, so I suggest you watch it now. You won’t be disappointed.
The writer, Derek Kolstad, based this character on an actual home invasion that actor Bob Odenkirk went through where Bob trapped the intruders in his basement!
Director Ilya Naishuller began his career with music videos, and you can tell because of the way this film’s structure manages to get information across quickly. His action sequences are also excruciatingly realistic, which is this director’s style. He’s quoted about his other film Hardcore Henry, “Hopefully none of us are going around picking up weapons and stabbing people. But if we were to do that, that's what it looks like.”
The writing here is stellar. You can learn a great deal about feature structure from analyzing this film. It "music videoes" the normal world, drawing you in, already caring about the character in the first two minutes. And then, his family gets robbed. Bob Odenkirk’s character, Hutch, has a chance to knock out one of the robbers with a golf club. And Hutch’s teenage son has the other robber in a headlock. Hutch doesn’t hit the robber when he has the chance and also makes his son let them go, resulting in the son getting punched in the face. Becca, his wife, played by Connie Nielsen, and his son now think he’s weak.
The film does an excellent job displaying this complicated family dynamic. The characters aren’t mean or yelling but rather genuinely disappointed in their father—their supposed protector. Becca still shares coffee with him in the morning, but their life is dull, boring, and unexceptional, and we get the feeling it will be this way till they die.
But when Hutch’s little girl realizes her kitty-cat bracelet is missing, that’s the final straw for Hutch. He exits his home without a word.
Screenwriters: study this first act! It utilizes subtext to show us who he is without telling us. We’re supposed to think he’s a putz. Becca sleeps with a pillow wall between them. His son doesn’t respect him. His brother-in-law and grandpa are better veterans than him, so the son should interview them for his school project on veterans instead. They were real soldiers. Hutch was only an auditor for the military; he’s not a badass. But if you’re paying attention, you realize that Hutch is holding back his skills. He knew the robber’s gun was empty, and he saw they were scared, so he didn’t attack.
But when Hutch realizes the robbers took his daughter’s bracelet, that was the end of holding back his former identity.
He then goes through a cool montage in search of the robbers. He hits the male robber in the face, demanding they give the bracelet back, pointing a gun at the female robber. Until their baby cries. Hutch sees the infant hooked up to oxygen, leaving without the bracelet.
This character takes the bus—it’s a big part of his daily routine. He’s a regular guy in the suburbs of NYC. So after beating up a brick wall, he gets on the bus and heads home. But then, these trouble-making Russians join him, and they’re messing with everyone, rude and drunk, and the five of them surround a female rider.
Hutch is itching for a fight and decides to fuck them up. All five of them. And he does—he’s an incredible fighter, even empties the bullets from his gun to show us he’s craving an actual fight. He’s thrown through the bus window and has a chance to walk away, but instead finishes the fight.
What’s truly special about the film's style is that Hutch gets a ton of injuries, so we worry, but he comes out on top. The visual interest and incredible character feel like a comic book film, except ... more realistic. The fight sequences are brutal, hard to watch, bury your face in your sweatshirt till it’s over with cracked skulls, crushed windpipes, and visceral noises that might make the viewer squeamish. Bob Odenkirk trained for a year to get in shape, and that training pays off, where the actor only had someone stand in twice throughout the film, so the fight sequences deliver an authentic experience.
And then, Act Two unfolds with impressive structure as well, taking left turns we don’t see coming, all the way till Hutch burns (literally) everything down.
Just watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
We find out an auditor is more like a hitman for the government agencies. And his reputation as the auditor named Nobody terrifies everyone.
I want to discuss the missed opportunity to bring Connie Nielsen’s character, Becca, into the fray when all is lost near the end. When Hutch comes home from his first fight on the bus, bloody and injured, she stitches him up, and the subtext shows us that she knows his former identity. Hutch tells Becca he misses her and misses who they used to be.
Connie Nielsen played Hippoylta, the leader of the Amazonians, in Wonder Woman. We know she can pull off fight sequences. But she doesn’t get to fight once in this film. Why waste her skills? Why cast someone we know as a warrior?
Hutch puts Becca and his kids in the panic room basement when the villains show up at his house and fights on his own. And it’s an awesome sequence. Truly. After the fight, when four dead guys are in his house, he leads Becca and the kids to the garage. They cover the eyes of his little girl, but his son gets to see the badass his father truly is. A heartfelt scene unfolds where Hutch promises Becca that this is the last time he’ll leave her in the dark.
That works, yes, get your kids to safety. But then we’re craving to see Connie Nielsen fuck some shit up to get revenge on the bad guys that brought the fight to her house, to her children. We want to see what it is about them that Hutch misses from their old life.
Why leave her in the dark, when there’s a clear opportunity for this structural change in their relationship? If he leaves her here, it’s because he hasn’t yet changed, and their relationship will still suffer. That can work, but then he must bring her in by the end to show us that their relationship will again find its spark.
However, Hutch finishes his mission on his own. There’s an interesting secondary storyline where his brother talks to him from a transistor radio. We get the impression his brother was also an auditor, or something military, but the storyline is underdeveloped.
In the end, when all is lost, too many bad guys arrive, so we think he’s toast. But then, this brother RZA shows up, along with his dad, Christopher Lloyd, who’s former FBI, and the three of them fight till the end. RZA as an actor does an excellent job, and it’s so sweet to see Christopher Lloyd’s character as a grandpa recover the thrill. He gets to come out of retirement for one last fight. But why bring in RZA, a character we’ve never met? Maybe the writer’s basing this on an experience he had with his brother and dad?
Even if it’s based on truth, what I don’t understand is: why bring in this new character to rescue Hutch? Why not have Becca drop the kids somewhere safe, and let her surprise us when she’s the sharpshooter who saves Hutch and helps him enact his plan for the win? You could replace her for RZA without breaking any other story structure, and that compression not only makes sense, but also would have same some money ...
This film is otherwise flawless. We’ve fallen in love with Hutch, Becca, and their kids. We want them to be happy. We want Hutch to get back the spice in his relationship.
For me, that means letting Becca in on the fight.
Nobody came out last year (2021). Why stay so male-driven? I get that this genre is testosterone heavy, and I love it. Really, I do. Not everything has to be softened; male-driven films can still exist, given the right story structure and themes that require this. But this film is in part about a failing marriage, and we want her contribution.
As an example, check out the majorly male-driven Wheelman, a film that boasts a record 286 uses of the word "fuck." This father must protect his 13-year-old daughter, and she gets brought into the mix in a limited but satisfying way that gives her character agency, capable of participating.
You can also watch any recent Marvel film or series to see diverse characters be complete equals in the action sequences and story structure. Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi, Hawkeye, The Eternals, etc.
I’ll touch on the argument here about traditional roles in marriage and how those can be and are often reversed in different cultures. I imagine as a male writer, a male director, and Bob Odenkirk’s own experience with robbery, that the inner wound of this character comes from feeling inferior as a male in protecting his family. And I’m good with that here because this story is that good; we feel for Hutch and those feelings of failure. We can tell this need to protect comes from a true place.
But as a mother, we also have feelings of failure when it comes to protecting our children. Hutch’s wife was involved somehow in his previous role as an auditor, so she’s culpable in bringing this violence into the lives of her children. I love everything else Derek Kolstad has written—the John Wick films, a couple of episodes of Falcon and Winter Soldier, and he co-created Die Hart.
But why keep Connie Nielsen, the Amazonian warrior, basically a housewife???
As a development exec, I still get scripts that miss the opportunity to let women be badasses. I’m not writing this analysis to criticize this fucking incredible film that I love. I feel a bit like I’m pointing out a typo after something’s gone to print. I’m only able to analyze Nobody and point out its one flaw because this film is so perfect otherwise.
The real point here is to implore future writers to let women be women, let mothers be badass.
LET US FIGHT. You won’t be disappointed.
*Feature Photo: Connie Nielsen, Greg Munroe, and Paisley Cadorath in "Nobody" (87 North)