Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Violent Gruesome Images, Language and Sexuality
Directed by: Randall Miller
Written by: Randall Miller & Jody Savin
Starring: Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku & Danny DeVito
In Fall 2008, I saw a trailer for a small movie that looked really interesting and had potential to be a lot of fun. This trailer happened to be playing in front of a crappy horror flick. As a result, my hatred for that lame (un)scary movie drowned out my memory of this film until long after I had left the theater. For years, I occasionally wracked my brain for the title to this unknown film. Through a totally random bit of browsing on IMDB, I ran across the name of the film that constantly eluded me. NOBEL SON had a quick stint in theaters and slipped under most people’s radar. Though there are cool ideas at work (especially in the initial set-up), this film is an unfocused mess that tries to emulate too much from other filmmakers along with cramming its plot full of unnecessary details that are better suited to two completely separate scripts than one long, complicated story.
Barkley is son to the brilliant, renowned, and narcissistic professor, Eli Michaelson. Having just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Eli is basking in his newfound respect and fame, much to the chagrin of Barkley. However, Eli’s already weak bond with his son is put to the test when Barkley is kidnapped by a vicious stranger. This kidnapper might be closer to Eli than originally expected and Barkley may have found a way to make Eli pay for years of constant abuse. This is easier said than done.
NOBEL SON actually starts off fairly promising. Though the character of Barkley is bland, Eli is brought to life by Alan Rickman hamming it up. There are genuinely unexpected and clever plot twists that promise an exciting dark comedy blended with a crime thriller. To boost matters, Danny DeVito shows up as an OCD-suffering boarder, while Bill Pullman plays a detective investigating Barkley’s kidnapping. There are also a few jokes that did get laughs out of me, including Eli’s not-so-subtle affair with a student in front of his wife. However, things quickly sink when you realize that both Bryan Greenberg (Barkley) and Shawn Hatosy (the kidnapper) seem unsuited for their roles. Not that the characters are particularly well-written to begin with, but their performances are especially wooden.
To make matters even worse, the mean-spirited screenplay that held such promise to begin with rapidly devolves into a convoluted and clichéd mess. It literally seems as if two entirely different scripts were thrown into a blender together. To give specific details would spoil some of the plot twists, but let’s just say that about halfway through NOBEL SON shifts gears in a very distracting way. It feels like an entirely separate movie somehow made its way onto the screen with the same characters. If it’s possible to be overly stylized, NOBEL SON takes the cake in that area too. There are far too much quick editing and fast camera movements used to an annoying degree. The musical score accompanying every scene feels forced as well. This music sounds like techno-beats constructed on a cheap computer program by someone in a rush in order to make the film production’s deadline. The narration of Barkley hovering over the movie cuts in and out only implemented when its convenient to further along the plot. The ending is also insulting in its stupidity.
NOBEL SON won’t be winning any awards like Eli Michaelson, but still comes off with the same pompous attitude of that arrogant character. SON acts as if its self-important “too cool for school” style should be celebrated and overly indulgent use of plot twists (no matter how ridiculous they become) should rank among the works of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Richie. Neither of these could be further from the case. Alan Rickman is enjoyable and the film starts off promisingly enough, but the boring main characters and silly plot twists ruin what might have been a thoroughly enjoyable dark crime comedy. NOBEL SON is one to skip and should remain forgotten.