Under the Radar and Over the Expectations
Starring: Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenburg
By Tom Bevis
Nobel Son is, to say the least, a roller coaster. It’s difficult to explain what the movie is about without dropping too many spoilers. Everything I had read prior to walking into the screening said it was about Eli Michaelson, a chemistry professor (Alan Rickman) who wins the Nobel Prize at the same time his family is disintegrating, followed by the kidnapping of his son, who is ransomed for the two million dollars in prize money. This sounds all right, but also sounds a bit boring. Luckily enough, the movie is so much more.
It’s actually a tight-wound pseudo-mystery/suspense in the rapid shoot-and-go stylings of Guy Ritchie. Bartley Michaelson (Bryan Greenburg) is the kidnapped son and Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy) is his kidnapper, the true stars of the picture. Both young actors are instantly familiar but have a catalog so unimpressive it’s unlikely we’ve seen them anywhere else. However, this familiarity helps them carry their roles so naturally in what may be the most genuine performances of the year.
The kidnapping and ransom compiles less than half of the film. The rest is a thick chain of deceit and cunning revenge that includes Batley’s mother, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen), her close friend and detective, Max (Bill Pullman) and revolving love interest, City Hall (Eliza Dushku). The first half of the film, all the cards are given to the audience during the narrator. The second half of the film keeps the audience guessing how the players are going to use them.
Unlike many other films on the market, there are no slow points or periods empty of story. Similarly, there are no instances in which the story is too dense to get a hold of it. The narrative flows smoothly and seamlessly from start to finish. The script, co-written by director Randall Miller with Jody Savin, never fails to hold suspense or intrigue without losing a step or overworking the audience.
All the supposed star power of the film is played out in cameos and characters. This includes Danny DeVito, Ted Danson, and Bill Pullman. Even Rickman plays second fiddle to Greenberg and Hatosy. However, not a single performance in the picture was overzealous or underplayed. Every member of the cast performed in the range of perfect believability.
For however great the story was, there are a few quibs I have with the film. The first and biggest problem is the editing. Early on in the movie, the film is edited in a similar fashion with which one would mix a techno song. The scenes are fast and rapidly shifting, the camera shakes and teeters, and often flashes. This rough-cut editing calms down and gives up in favor of a more conventional style about a quarter into the picture. One would argue the director decided on this method to illustrate the tension during the first quarter of the film, but this simply isn’t so because the film only gets tenser after the kidnapping sequence.
There are a few scenes which test the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Among these are a sequence when Thaddeus rebuilds an entire car in one hour, and another in which Bartley drives a car through a shopping mall by remote. However, by this point in the film, the story has the audience wrapped tightly in the narrative and only ravenous nitpickers will point out the unlikeliness of such events.
Movie viewers who enjoyed Brick or even The Big Lebowski will likely enjoy this picture.
Braced with a brilliantly disorienting script and authentic performances, Nobel Son is an entirely captivating and entertaining picture. I’m not entirely sure if the film will qualify for the Oscars, as it was finished in 2007 and cruised the festival circuit before hitting the big screen, but the Academy would be sorely disgraced if they miss Nobel Son.