The Dodge Challenger in Nobody launches Bob Odenkirk’s action-hero debut
When Bob Odenkirk announced his plans to train for a new action film, he recalls an unnamed actor who laughed and said that he didn’t have to bother with such prep. “They have guys who do the fighting for you,” the actor told him. And Odenkirk wanted to respond, “I wanna do the action movie. I don’t want to just be in one. I want to do what Jackie Chan does, my version of it, the best I can do.”
Odenkirk delivered. Committing himself fully to the role of Hutch Mansell in Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody, he trained for two years with action legend Daniel Bernhardt (The Matrix Reloaded and Resurrections, the Bloodsport sequels, John Wick, Barry). And Odenkirk pulls it off, merging pathos, physicality, and humor into one of the best performances of the year. During his career, Bob Odenkirk has proven himself adept at both comedy and drama, and with Nobody, he’s officially graduated to ass-kicking. And when it comes to a car with attitude to match, the casting was picture-perfect: the Dodge Challenger.
Odenkirk’s expertise isn’t immediately apparent. As Hutch, he’s an unassuming, unhappy family man who’s repressed his true self for too long. As it turns out, Hutch is an “auditor,” a highly-skilled assassin who used to work for various intelligence agencies. When Hutch’s home is broken at the beginning of the film, he could fight back against the thieves but chooses not to, a decision that destroys whatever respect his family, friends, and acquaintances had left for him. Though Naishuller has called Nobody an addiction drama, it feels more like a film about self-acceptance: when Hutch finally reclaims who he is, his life and his relationships improve. It’s also when things get a little more interesting.
A conversation between Hutch and his neighbor Jim (Paul Essiembre) illustrates just how downtrodden he is. The neighbor digs the knife in a little deeper, crowing that he wished his house had been robbed instead because he “could’ve used the exercise.” Both men are pretending to be something they’re not: The neighbor thinks he’s a tough guy, whereas Hutch has to pretend that he isn’t, hiding his gift for violence, living Jim’s fantasy.
This is when Hutch happens to notice his neighbor’s new car, recently inherited from his father. “He didn’t have much to leave, but at least I got something out of it,” the neighbor explains, then brags: “’72 Challenger. 4.9-liter V-8. Zero to 60 in … I’m about to find the f*** out.” Unsurprisingly, the neighbor gets it wrong: the Challenger has never been equipped with a 4.9-liter V-8. In 1972, the Challenger only had three engine options: 3.7-liter slant-six (225 cid), the 5.2-liter V-8 (318 cid), and the 5.6-liter V-8 (340 cid).
His neighbor’s bluster makes it extra satisfying when Hutch chooses to drive the Challenger over his own car in the film’s second half. After pissing off the wrong Russian (Aleksey Serebryakov’s Yulian), Hutch’s situation escalates, and he’s forced to send his family away, then burn his own house down. Hutch walks out, heading for his car, but the Challenger proves irresistible, beautifully illuminated by the flames from Hutch’s house. It’s a testament to his rebirth: an SUV never represented Hutch, but the Challenger does. It’s not a transformation as much as it is a reclamation. Even the color palette of the film shifts as Hutch does, from a drab, desaturated world to bright comic-book colors.
In Derek Kolstad’s script, the car was originally a ’72 Maserati, but production couldn’t quite cover the cost of a car like that. The Challenger feels right, though, and even the secret title of the film became “Challenger.” The car that Hutch commandeers evokes the white Challenger of Vanishing Point fame, a film that made the first-generation Dodge Challenger a pop-culture legend. It’s a perfect fit for the auditor, a mythic car for a mythic character. Like Vanishing Point’s Kowalski, Hutch is an antihero, an outlaw disillusioned by the American dream, a man in existential crisis who’s searching for meaning and grappling with alienation. Both men have addictions: for Kowalski it’s speed (both kinds), and for Hutch, it’s violence.
Hutch drives the Challenger in the film’s climactic car chase, one that the filmmakers had hoped would be much bigger and more complicated. In their vision of this chase, Odenkirk would have had to jump from car to car, in what Naishuller described as an “almost comic-book like level of action.” Due to budget limitations, it looked like they might have to cut the chase altogether, but Universal thankfully decided they needed a car chase after all. The chase was largely left in the hands of the second-unit director and stunt coordinator Greg Rementer with only a few days to shoot it, but the results were worth it. Hutch’s neighbor leaves Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” playing in the car, and it becomes the soundtrack to the chase—and to Hutch’s reawakening. Hutch isn’t looking to evade his enemies; rather, he intends to lead them to their demise. Naishuller explains that, in this chase, “It’s not about who’s got the better car, it’s about who’s got the better mind.” But Hutch has both: a superior mind and the cooler car. Despite having to scale this scene back, it’s a gritty, satisfying, fun little sequence that shows off what both the Challenger and Odenkirk can do.
The first-gen Challenger was one of the most popular pony cars of all time. The E-body car was built to compete with the Mercury Cougar and the Pontiac Firebird and developed alongside the Plymouth Barracuda, though it was made as more of a luxury car than the sportier Barracuda. It was a sexy, youthful car, and one of the last great cars before the onset of the Malaise Era in ’73, a time when minimizing pollution was prioritized over maximizing horsepower. The first Challenger debuted in the fall of ’69, and it had extensive trim and option lists, with Chrysler offering just about every engine it had. The ’72 Challenger, however, marked beginning of the end; Dodge cut back, reduced the once-lengthy list of engines to only three, and sales took a hit. In a way, this makes the high-performance ride perfect for Hutch’s last stand: Hutch, once powerful, had also started to feel that he was on his way out, obsolete. But legend status is eternal.
Tragically, Hutch wrecks the Challenger at the end of the chase. On the film’s commentary, Odenkirk correctly notes that his neighbor is probably “not gonna like that.” It’s a bummer for us, too: though the end of Nobody hints at a sequel, we won’t see this Challenger again. But maybe Hutch will return in a ride that proves to be a worthy successor. There is one thing we can be sure of: Nobody establishes Bob Odenkirk as a bonafide action star, in a bonafide action car.