Nobel Son Directed by: Randall Miller Cast: Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen Running Time: 1 hr 42 minutes Rating: R Opens: 12/5 in Seattle and Chicago
Plot: When Barkley Michaelson’s father is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it begins a series of events that turns his directionless life around. An oft-troubled kid who has been pursuing his PhD in the study of cannibalism, Barkley get tangled up in an unorthodox love-triangle where nothing (and I mean nothing) is as it seems.
Who’s It For?: Fans of film-noir. Director Randall Miller undoubtedly studied at Tarantino Film School, so be prepared for a slew of quick cuts, harsh editing, and a soundtrack custom made for pretentious art students. But seriously, this is a film that tries hard to prove its level of coolness to a crowd not quite hip enough to care.
Expectations: I honestly hadn’t heard of this film before being assigned to review it. Rickman usually brings it, so it excited me to find out he was starring in it. I’d just seen Steenburgen in Four Christmases and loved her in it. That’s about it. Sometimes its best to go into an unfamiliar with no expectations. Perhaps they hadn’t marketed it because it was simply... awful. The mystery is half the fun.
Alan Rickman as Eli Michaelson: Rickman is a gifted actor whose pension for playing asinine British elitists is rivaled only by his flare for cinematic showmanship. Nobel Son reminds us of his gifts. You want to punch him in the face half the time. Every time he speaks you find yourself rolling your eyes along with the cast of characters paid to pretend they feel the same way. What’s most impressive about his talent is it appears to be phoning it in. He makes it look that easy. You couldn’t find a better actor to bring Eli to life. Score: 9
Bryan Greenberg as Barkley Michaelson: Since breaking into the industry, Greenburg’s largely been a mainstay in television series like One Tree Hill, and October Road. His performance in Nobel Son requires a harsh critical diagnosis—Should he remain on the big screen, or be sent back to the smaller medium. Let’s go with the former. He’s funny, and entirely believable as an underachieving overachiever with no idea how to best utilize his genetic advantages. This is a change actors rarely get—to portray the victim and the villain, and he relishes in the chance. It’s a difficult task, but the young actor is more than up to it. Score: 8
Shawn Hatosy as Thaddeus James: It’s difficult to label this guy as anything but the kid who had his scenes stolen from him by Alec Baldwin in Outside Providence. He’s a familiar face amidst a legion of similarly struggling young actors trying to establish a fan base in Hollywood. It’s obvious Hatosy is eager to display some serious chops as the conniving Thaddeus James. It’s the toughest role in the film, and he does his best to shed his jock-esque attributes to play a boy genius-turned adult-mastermind, but fails to pull the whole thing off. Let’s put it this way: When you take a chance on a B-lister, it’s rare he or she can wield A-list talent convincingly enough to carry a film. Score: 5
Mary Steenburgen as Sarah Michaelson: An impressive turn away from the deadpan comedy in Four Christmases. It’s a wonder the actress seemed to disappear below the Hollywood radar for much of the decade. Aside from a few brief contributions (Elf, Step Brothers) to major films, her talents have been largely laid to waste. This will no longer be the case. For a middle-aged woman with authentically derived southern hospitality (she was born in Arkansas), she can she throw audiences an arsenal of misleading curves when called upon to do so. Sarah Michaelson is hardly the devoted wife she seems to be for much of the film. She’ll fool you too. Score: 9
Talking: Though Rickman gets most of the wittiest one-liners, the entire cast benefits from a suavely written script. When you’re throwing together a film that takes as many twists and turns as Nobel Son, it’s best to keep the audience in high spirits. Mission accomplished. There are several moments where just when it seems things couldn’t get more serious, you burst out laughing as a the result of some craftily-placed humor. This is a tough method to instill into a film-noir, and despite a few ill-advised decisions, they largely succeed in the practice. Score: 8
Sights It’s a good-looking film. Though I’m hardly an expert on the technicalities of filmmaking, it’s certain these guys were using some top-notch instrumentation to make the movie look so thriftily glossed over. Nobody benefits from this more than Eliza Dushku, whose effortless fusion of allure and vexation forces you to both love and hate her character with staunch awareness. The only thing is, I’d bring an Advil to the theaters, unless you want a splitting headache to emerge on your drive home. Score: 7
Sounds: You feel every hit Barkley takes to the face, and hear every revving engine (of which there are quite a few) speeding through the backstreets of east Los Angeles. Rickman’s blatantly placed sighs are so painfully delivered, you can almost feel the tension brewing in each room he enters. It’s strange, but sometimes it felt you were shalacked with too much noise. while it worked in spurts, their decision to keep this sensation continuous that was a bit much. Score: 6
Best Scene: The opening scene, which ironically includes none of the lead-actors (if it does, you can hardly tell). You’re taking a chance when you open the movie with specific intent to confuse the audience. When people begin their movie-going experience asking dozens of questions, you either (A) know they’re hooked, or (B) immediately pissed they let themselves get talked into seeing the movie in question. Thankfully, most of you will side with option-A.
Ending: Not sure. It will be difficult to tell whether you should be happy and relived, or just upset. It can’t be said for sure whether it feels like a cop-out ending, or a suitable conclusion. Let me put it this way: Most films display their protagonist(s) v. antagonist(s) dynamic in a way that’s easy to follow. Sometimes they fool you, but it’s largely through a series of relatively familiar tactics. Nobel Son makes its own rules, and as a result—will make a few critical enemies.
Questions: Yes, you will have many.
Rewatchability: A necessity. This is a film that drops clues you couldn’t possibly be aware of during a first viewing. A collectible on DVD, much in the same way film-fanatics geek out on repeat watchings of Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, and Pulp Fiction.
OVERALL You know that feeling you get right after you’re punched in the face—You know, when your eyesight is fuzzy, and your head isn’t quite throbbing yet? Probably not. In that case, you’re viewing of Nobel Son will likely be a new experience. This is a good film with great ambition. It’s like a terrifically flavored piece of gum that leaves a haunting aftertaste—You know you loved how it felt to chew it, and though you missed that sensation, you couldn’t have spit it out sooner after it lost its initial succulence. This is a film laden with questions that multiply by the nano-second, yet compelling enough to engage its audience, sometimes against its collective will. It’s a cinematic oxy-moron that cancels out your questions with a new slew of inquisitions you may or may not have answered at its conclusion… Were you vexed by this synopsis? If not, you will understand Nobel Son from start to finish—And you’re I.Q. is 216.
Final Score: 7/10