Nobel Son effortlessly manoeuvres through its exquisitely planned twists and turns while maintaining an undeniable dark edge.
Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) is struggling to complete his thesis for an anthropology Ph.D. when his egotistical father Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) wins the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. But Eli’s past finds this an ideal occasion to surface, ensuring his inflated bliss is short-lived. When Barkley is kidnapped on the eve of his father accepting the prize, Eli refuses to pay the ransom while keeping his wife Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) out of the loop. This sets off a venomous game of intrigue and deception that proves payback is a bitch.
Writer/director Randall Miller has designed a story of many complexities in which everyone is trying to screw everyone else, both figuratively and literally. The story doesn’t pull any punches, beginning with an impromptu amputation. The characters are then introduced through glimpses of their activities, revealing the hearts of the individuals in a brief period of time.
Shawn Hatosy portrays the brilliant but deranged kidnapper with an ulterior motive, Thaddeus James. Barkley is equally intelligent but a disappointment to his father because he chose not to follow in his footsteps. Eliza Dushku is the unstable poet/artist City Hall who lures Barkley with her beauty and free spirit. Bill Pullman is a detective and friend of Sarah’s who leads the investigation into Barkley’s disappearance and the events that follow.
Of course, it is the events that follow that really make the film outstanding. With a touch of Fatal Attraction, Barkley’s life begins to spin out of control. It is his efforts to regain control that make for a truly interesting final act.
A key moment in the film is the incredible employment of a Mini Cooper to recover the ransom money from a crowded mall. Never has anything like this been done before. The minutely planned details of every move of every character and the dark sense of humour that underlies everything are a tribute to Miller’s talent as a storyteller. The exceptional cast each bring their characters to life, perfectly realizing Miller’s vision.
Miller was also determined to have a complementary exhilarating soundtrack, so he turned to club beats guru Paul Oakenfold. The result is an adrenalized compilation.
Nobel Son is a smart exploration of interpersonal relationships that are tainted with lust, betrayal and family dysfunction. Someone was bound to seek revenge some time.