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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
After Det. Mariner questions Eli for the second time, Eli and his mother follow the detective out to his car, which is parked with its wheels partially off the asphalt. In the next shot, all of the wheels are on the asphalt. See more »
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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Darkly comedic psychological thriller which delights
I attended the World Premiere of Nobel Son at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. That's Nobel as in Nobel Prize, and it takes the festival prize in my book. This winning film, from writer/director/producer/editor Randall Miller (did he make lunch too?), is on my list of Top 10 Picks from among the 30 I saw at this year's festival.
Professor Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) is about to win the Nobel Prize. His son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) is a promising Ph.D. candidate wanting little to do with his father's pomposity. A scheme is hatched which is sure to pit father against son in a way to maximize their inherent rivalry. Let the madness and mayhem begin. In addition to Greenberg and Rickman, Nobel Son stars a troupe of talented veterans including Bill Pullman, Shawn Hatosy, Danny DeVito, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson, and Eliza Dushku.
It's always hard to single anyone out in such an amazing ensemble cast. Greenberg, the titular son, is a worthy protagonist. The roller coaster ride on which he is taken is chilling, yet his upper crust background and bravado veneer cannot hide his childlike innocence. It is that vulnerability which sucks us in and compels us to look even when we would rather look away.
Shawn Hatosy is one of the most prolific and versatile young actors in the business, and he is frighteningly brilliant here. The intensity he brings to this role never lets up from start to finish. Nobody is better at psycho-scary. Many will be blown away by his performance. If he wasn't on your radar before he will be after you see Nobel Son.
Alan Rickman provides most of the comic relief in a film that is much more dark than comedic. A lesser actor could have turned in an over-the-top performance which might have tipped the scales in favor of the lighter side of this film. That would have spoiled the intensity of the violent escapades these young men partake in. But he manages to play the buffoon as only a legend can.
I was quite surprised by the look and feel of this film. It's much more stylized than one might expect. Digital effects and clever camera work help take what could have been a standard caper movie (a la Oceans 11) and turn it into a psychological thriller, emphasis on the thrills. It is such a fascinating story and an amazing script, and kudos to Randall Miller for being able to create a work which defies categorization. Gasps and laughs are traded back and forth, yet it manages to toe the line between comedy and tragedy without losing its focus.
If Kubrick inhaled nitrous oxide while making A Clockwork Orange, it might look something like Nobel Son. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, literally. Nobel Son is a breathtaking, refreshing escape from convention.
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