Barkley Michaelson is in a deep life rut. He's struggling to finish his PhD thesis when his father, the learned Eli Michaelson, wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Barkley and his mother, ...
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Barkley Michaelson is in a deep life rut. He's struggling to finish his PhD thesis when his father, the learned Eli Michaelson, wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Barkley and his mother, Sarah, a renowned forensic psychiatrist, now have the ill-fortune of living with a man-eating monster whose philandering ways have gotten less and less discrete. As if Barkley's world is not bad enough, on the eve of his father receiving the Nobel, Barkley is kidnapped and the requested ransom is the $2,000,000 in Nobel prize money. Needless to say, Eli refuses to pay it and so starts a venomous tale of familial dysfunction, lust, betrayal and ultimately revenge. In the words of Michel De Montaigne, the 16th century philosopher: "There is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead." Written by
Randall Miller & Jody Savin
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The French essayist, Michel de Montaigne, once said, "I think there is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead." The wisdom of it. When you were a kid with an open soul, they told the world consists of good guys and bad guys. I always liked the bad guys. Scar Face over Superman.
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Nobel Son is a labyrinthine clockwork plot that involves one of the trickiest, slickest heists since The Italian Job or the first and second Ocean's films, a con game with more twists and hairpin turns than a script by David Mamet on coke, and a theme of desire for revenge that seethes even more after dubious narrative about-faces. The heist and con game film and the revenge story are a surefire mix for me. But I felt like I was trying to watch a great heist movie at a rave party. Whether techno music is good or bad, it renders you a slave to its beat. But I wanted to be a slave to the movie's beat. It's difficult to do both. Hence, the film is a more difficult viewing than it needs to be.
As a philandering chemistry professor who as a laboriously detestable character drives the story by winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Alan Rickman is the definite anchor for the ensemble cast of characters, all of whom are pawns in the script's scheme to weave the jazziest web the genre's seen in years. It could have easily achieved that goal were director Randall Miller contemplative enough to understand the effects of the audiovisual medium of film. There are not only sequences which require a much different kind of music, but there are several sequences which would be much more impacting to the tension of the unraveling story's pace without overscoring at all. Nearly every American genre film has sequences handled in the less effective way, but few of them soar into the depths of its extreme.
Rickman is the flagship but Mary Steenburgen is no less charming as his wife. A woman can be married to a man like Nobel Prize-winning chemist Eli Michaelson purely by being masochistic, deranged or in control of a deeply sophisticated feel for bitter sarcasm. But in spite of there being plenty of pleasant surprise in bit roles by Danny DeVito, Ernie Hudson and Bill Pullman as well, there isn't much room to talk about their performances, which are compartmentalized into roles that serve more as functions than characters to create a remorseless plot. Each character's occupation has much more to do with how they could come in handy to tie up loose ends than with who they are.
Nevertheless, this caper takes you for a turbulent excursion, because whether or not Randall Miller or his wife and co-writer Jody Savin have crafted a top-drawer entry into the con game genre, they remember that confidence tricks manipulate human weaknesses like selfishness, corruption and ego, as they are all things a con artist possesses himself, but also exploited are merits like honor, charity or a forthright belief in good faith on the part of the con artist.
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