Too Clever by Half
What is "Nobel Son", I am still not completely sure as it twists and turns, recreating itself halfway through before recreating itself at least once more before it twists to get us to some sort of ending. It's a thriller yet not really that thrilling, it's farcical yet not that funny, it's clever yet stupid and it's heavy in style and dialogue. It is shall we say confusing and intentionally so because there is one thing for sure and that is that "Nobel Son" is a movie which is made to keep you on your toes. Think the twistedness of "Duplicity" and give it the styling of "Ocean's 12" and you will get some idea of what "Nobel Son" delivers.
Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg - Bride Wars) is your typical struggling university student, bogged down with finishing his PhD in Cannibalism. And if that wasn't rough enough his father, the egotistical Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman - Love Actually) has just won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry which means that Barkley and his mother Sarah (Mary Steenburgen - Hope Springs), a forensic expert, have the displeasure of living with a man who's ego and arrogance swells to an uncontrollable level. But that is just the start of Barkley's problems because on the eve of his father receiving his Nobel Prize he gets kidnapped and held for ransom.
On face value that brief synopsis sounds quite dull, a University kid gets kidnapped, whoopdeedoo. But "Nobel Son" is not a movie which can be taken on face value and also cannot be gone into in much detail in a review because it would spoil far too many surprises. You see "Nobel Son" is a movie which twists and turns all over the place, you think one thing only for it to turn things around to be something else and it does it over and over again. Not shall I say in a complex way, the twists are easy to follow even if they can't always be predicted. But being what can be classed a "twister" it's so convoluted that much of the storyline is riddled with gaping plot holes that make much of what happens plainly stupid.
And talking of stupid "Nobel Son" starts of as one thing a thriller as we watch the characters put into place and the kidnap to take place. But then the minute the set up is done it takes on an element of farce as twists end up delivering a sense of amusement whether intentionally or not. And before it finishes that sense of farce goes walk abouts as it returns to deliver drama. It is a very mixed bag of styles, almost confused as to what it wants to be and most annoyingly could have been a noble effort if it focused on being one or the other not both.
To add to the annoyance over being unfocussed it also feels that director, writer, editor, producer Randall Miller a man of many talents has tried to make it a stylish movie to rival the likes of "Ocean's Twelve". Commendable except for the fact that some of the styling is so heavy handed that it makes your head spin, between snappy edits, long focus shots and so on, you begin to ask for just a few moments where he's not trying to impress through style alone. And to add to the negatives is that the dialogue seems to be trying equally hard to stand out with quite often something which could be said simply and effectively, embellished to sound like something Shakespeare would have written. And that sort of sums "Nobel Son" up it's trying to be more than it really is and ends up coming across as almost pretentious.
Though having highlighted many of the flaws it has to be said that "Nobel Son" has an impressive cast which deliver performances which make much of the intentional confusion entertaining. Alan Rickman is just marvellous as the arrogant Eli Michaelson, intentionally demeaning to his wife and son and blatantly philandering as he happily beds his students. Mary Steenburgen is equally good as his wife, strong and powerful as this career woman yet with a motherly touch. And then there is Bryan Greenberg as Barkley, an unfamiliar name despite a TV career, who it has to be said grew on me the longer the movie went on and his character became a lot more interesting.
But that is just the main trio in a movie which also features Bill Pullman, Ted Danson, Danny DeVito, Ernie Hudson, Eliza Dushku as well as Shawn Hatosy who is quite brilliant as kidnapper Thaddeus James.
What this all boils down to is that the "Nobel Son" whilst strangely entertaining ends up suffering because it's trying to hard. It amusingly twists and turns throwing up red herrings along the way but it ends up convoluted, comical and overly stylized when all it really needed to achieve was be thrilling. Thankfully the acting is very good especially Alan Rickman who is as entertaining as always as the egotistical and arrogant Eli.