Published Dec 04, 2008Nobel Son's appropriately awkward title - try not to say "noble" - befits it. Its ambitious genre mishmash is largely incongruent, though a charismatically sociopathic supporting turn from Alan Rickman, an arresting aesthetic and scattered moments of dark humour make it mostly watchable.
Egomaniacal asshole professor Eli Machaelson wins the Nobel Prize, which spurs the kidnapping of his underachieving son (Bryan Greenberg), drudges up Dickensian family secrets, incites conversations about cannibalism and leads to thumb removal. The title and outset allege a father/son, Grasshopper-style mediation, yet that only gets lip service.
Rickman takes a familiar, hubristic academic template and turns it into a playfully believable and inexplicably likeable personage. Whether playing up his grandeur, publicly castigating his family or criticising an undergraduate after coitus, he joyously revels in self-importance. Though, despite what the poster would have you believe, he doesn't get nearly enough screen time.
Similarly, the too-vast cast wastes a wealth of talented character actors, notably Bill Pullman and Ernie Hudson's highly fallible cops, and Danny DeVito's hilarious, OCD-afflicted neighbour. Mary Steenburgen's long-suffering mother/forensic scientist fares better but she more than anyone suffers from the flawed script's sudden tonal shifts.
As the titular son, Greenberg (One Tree Hill) is a blank slate and that works relatively well, especially during a third act Volta. However, when the comedy gets usurped by tacked on family drama, his haplessness rings suddenly false.
Director/co-writer Randall Miller (The Sixth Man, Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School) keeps his camera moving throughout (think Guy Ritchie lite), giving the film a smooth fluidity that helps to keep the plot from stalling, despite its overreaching and implausibility. Though he could have done without the intrusive, ill-advised minimalist techno soundtrack, which fails to gloss over the myriad plot holes. (Alliance)