Judge Eric Profancik is pushing for a Nobel Prize in Online DVD Reviewing.
"Rats live on no evil star."
Alan Rickman is an actor I like…a lot, and that's only because of his role in Die Hard. That one character was so perfect; he elevated the bad guy to such a new level, that I am willing to watch any movie with him in it. Unfortunately, he hasn't had any role since that is half of Hans Gruber. He's pretty good yet woefully underutilized in the Harry Potter series, he's interesting but a minor player in Perfume, and so on down the list. Does Alan Rickman bring it all home in this one, Nobel Son, or is he squandered yet again?
Facts of the Case
Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) has just won the Nobel Prize for his work in chemistry. This award enhances his already overinflated ego, and he revels in the moment, rubbing it in every which way he can. As a father, he's horrible, ignoring and insulting his son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg, One Tree Hill) at every turn. As Eli, his wife, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen, Back to the Future Part III), and Barkley prepare to go to Sweden to accept the award, Barkley is kidnapped. Being the pompous fool, Eli, dragging Sarah with him, leaves for Sweden. Upon their arrival in Sweden, Eli is contacted by the kidnapper, Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy, Southland), but Eli, so absorbed in his own importance, doesn't believe it's a real ransom call. It's not until he receives a severed thumb and a picture of a bound Barkley that he realizes his son isn't just playing. Now Eli and Sarah must pay $2 million—the Nobel's prize money—to get their son back.
That's where things take a few unexpected twists.
I had to stop a little more an hour into Nobel Son to meet up with some friends, and at that point I told them that I really didn't like the movie. It had thus far one redeeming factor and it wasn't Rickman, it was the ransom delivery scene I had just watched. That was a great scene, the best part of the movie thus far, and totally coming out of left field, unexpected based on the previous tale told to that point. So when I came back to the film, it's still working off that energy from the ransom scene, and it was evolving into a totally different film. When all was said and done, I discovered I enjoyed the movie—contrary to my previous assertion—but that it could have been better.
The main problem with Nobel Son is not in the story or the acting; it's all in the execution of the director's vision. Said director is Randall Miller, who had previously done Houseguest and would go on to do Bottle Shock (which features an oddly similar cast to this film, including Chris Pine of new Star Trek fame). There is an interesting story with some nice developments and twists, but the style doesn't mesh with said narrative. The movie is trying far too hard to be hip and cool, more appealing to a younger demographic—one that may not be old enough for an R-rated film. Nothing exemplifies the misfire than the overuse of techno music. It just doesn't fit. The music is too jarring, taking you out of the moment. It rips you from a compelling drama into a dance club. Nobel Son would be a much better film had Mr. Miller decided to approach it from a calmer, more "adult" viewpoint. I'm not saying his style is immature, but simply that the material feels as if it would be served better with a purer, dramatic viewpoint. Take each moment, build upon it, let the tension build, then throw your twists and turns out and you'd better engage your viewers.
Part of the reason I also found the beginning of the movie lacking was Rickman's character. Dr. Michaelson is such a dreadful, unlikable person. He's mean, arrogant, demanding, abusive, self-centered, and many other distasteful adjectives. Why should we care about him and his reward? Then we see how he reacts to his son's kidnapping and we like him less. Granted, there's an eventual reason for this, but it's hard to connect with such a loathsome individual. I don't have an overall problem with loathsome, as Hans Gruber certainly fits that bill, but there's nothing else going for Eli. Hans is evil yet brilliant, sophisticated and suave; Eli is just arrogant and rude. Thus, while Alan Rickman the actor says in the bonus materials how much he loved the role and the writing, as a fan of Rickman, I was again disappointed with another character that doesn't match up to his masterpiece.
Lastly, I have to admit to a bit of wonder, amazement, and curiosity about the cast in Nobel Son. I only listed the major characters earlier, but in addition to that, it also stars Danny DeVito, Eliza Dushku, Bill Pullman, and Ted Danson. Granted, they may not be A-list actors, but this is a good smattering of B-list people, and I have to wonder how/why so many of them signed up for this one.
Video is a 2.35:1 anamorphic print that has no errors that jumped out to my eye. Colors are accurate, blacks are inky, and contrast comes across well giving us a solid level of detail. While not a problem with the transfer, I didn't like the post-production choice to darken the print, so that everything is muted and murky. I didn't realize how dark everything was until in the bonus materials when I saw the scene without enhancement. It would have been a richer, better visual. There is only one audio choice and that's a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that has a bit of a balancing issue: I found the center channel to be too low, so I turned it up a little bit. On top of that, once you find a comfortable overall level for the movie (namely the dialogue), when it switches over to that techno music, it comes blasting out at you—too loudly. Beyond that, I detected no audio distortion; and the only time the surrounds really come into play is during the musical cues; but they are active cues!
The DVD sports a few bonus items, which will give some nice balance to those interested in the movie. First is the obligatory audio commentary track with Randall Miller (who is not only the director but also writer, producer, and editor), Jody Savin (writer, producer, and Miller's wife), Bryan Greenberg, Mike Ozier (cinematographer), and Eliza Dushku (who plays the girlfriend part). It's a pretty decent track that is a good mix of technical and gossip. I think that Miller sat too close to the microphone as he often overwhelms the audio. And I couldn't understand Eliza's "place" in the commentary. She is not introduced with everyone else at the beginning, but she suddenly pops up right before her first scene, but there are other people (Miller, Bryan) with her. Next up are three deleted scenes (4:45) with optional commentary by Miller and Savin. I can see why these were trimmed, but they give a little more detail to the final act of the movie. As for the optional commentary, it's amateur hour as it's horribly muffled because, again, Miller is practically swallowing the microphone. The last big item is a featurette, which is how it's listed on the disc, that is your basic behind-the-scenes stuff. It starts off horribly self-congratulatory, but settles down soon thereafter. Rounding things out are the red band and green band trailers for Nobel Son, and regular trailers for How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Slumdog Millionaire, and Choke.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Nobel Son is a modern, crafty, thriller that throws twist after twist after twist at you. You'll never be able to guess what's coming, and you'll love every new turn that comes your way.
OK, I don't really believe that, but the twists are pretty good. On top of that, you will like the ransom delivery scene.
The hard part with Nobel Son is the dichotomy of the movie itself: the style. I may not be a fan of the movie, but there is an interesting story in there that does eventually unfold. On the whole I would say that I enjoyed the two hours, but how does that boil down to a recommendation? Couple the movie with decent transfers and bonus materials, I can at best give this one a rental recommendation.
Nobel Son is hereby found guilty of stealing the gay nightclub's
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 Eric Profancik; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.