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Not a Prize Winner...
by Matt Forsman on Dec 05, 2008
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.
If youíre looking for action, familial dysfunction, dark comedy, and plenty of Paul Oakenfold music, Nobel Son is undoubtedly the film of the year. However, if youíre looking for a consistently engaging film with well constructed characters and a believable story, this film tries nobly, but largely falls short.
Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) is a graduate student who specializes in cannibalism. His dissertation looms like a dark cloud and despite his best efforts; he canít quite seem to wrap things up. Barkley also lives in the shadow of his highly accomplished father, Eli Michaelson, who is an unrepentant egomaniac. That fact that Eli receives the Nobel Prize in chemistry doesnít exactly solidify the already weak father/son bond these two have.
The estranged relationship between Eli and Barkley is complicated further when Barkley is kidnapped and held for $2,000,000 ransom (the amount Eli won as recipient of the Nobel Prize). Not surprisingly, Eli is not terribly enthusiastic about parting with the cash to save the life of a son who has consistently been a disappointment to him.
What kind of father would hesitate to pay ransom to save his sonís life? The kind of father played by Alan Rickman who has made a name for himself playing prickly, unpleasant characters. And Rickman really goes for the jugular in Nobel Son. Eli is a transcendent asshole. Heís disgustingly brilliant. Heís also disgustingly self-absorbed, lustful, and generally devoid of any real morals or ethics. That being said, Eli is the most entertaining part of the film. Rickman revels in this characterís boorish and nauseating behavior and itís hysterically funny in a very sick and twisted way.
Barkley on the other hand is far from entertaining or compelling. Itís not that thereís anything wrong with Barkley, heís just not a strong character. Aside from the anger and resentment he harbors towards his father, thereís nothing much to him. You donít want to see him die, but you donít really care that much if he does. This isnít the fault of Bryan Greenberg who delivers for the most part; itís really the fault of writer/director Randall Miller who just didnít put much meat on Eliís bones so to speak.
Miller injects Nobel Son with an odd mix of quirky, idiosyncratic characters that donít really serve any kind of purpose aside from being weird and quirky. Danny Devito is wasted in a bit part as an obsessive-compulsive neighbor. Eliza Dushku plays a really twisted, insecure wack-job artist that Eli screws around with. Thereís nothing wrong with having weird, wacky characters if theyíre memorable and serve some kind of purpose in the film. But, they donít for the most part. Presumably, theyíre all just supposed to be "cool" because theyíre weird and fucked up.
Independent of the performances in the film (Rickmanís being the best), The Nobel Son careens from being a dark noir film to a caper film to a dark comedy. Thereís a real lack of commitment to a particular tone throughout. Further contributing to the inconsistent tone of the film is the omnipresence of Paul Oakenfold beats throughout the entire film regardless of whatís happening on screen. Frenetic techno beats might make sense during a similarly frenetic action sequence, but often times the music is jarring given whatís transpiring onscreen.
Nobel Son isnít a miserable failure, but it doesnít do enough things right to elevate it beyond anything vaguely mediocre. If Alan Rickman hadnít knocked his performance out of the park, there would be virtually nothing to recommend in this one.
by Matt Forsman on Dec 05, 2008