"This Prize Is Not Worth the Cost"
What You Need To Know:
NOBEL SON is cleverly written, with some unexpected twists, but the characters are utterly unappealing. Staying just short of the psychotic, they are shallow, insensitive and selfish. It’s hard to care what happens to them. The biggest stumble, however, is the constant swearing, graphic sexual content, bloody violence, and callous, godless, insensitivity of most of the characters.
(PaPaPa, LLL, VVV, SSS, NN, A, MMM) Very strong pagan worldview with little, if any, redeeming value; at least 37 or more obscenities (including many “f” words) and four profanities; very strong, but brief, graphic, bloody violence includes beatings with fists and feet, murder by drowning and suffocation, and implied dismemberment; very strong sexual content includes depicted intercourse, adultery, explicit dialogue, and the act of undressing; side nudity, brief rear male nudity and implied nudity showing the back of the torso; alcohol use; smoking but no drug use; most of the characters are immoral to some degree, or susceptible to it, and exhibit social and psychological dysfunctions which are used as vehicle for the movie’s dark comedic theme, plus lying, kidnapping, blackmail, and moral relativism.
The first word in NOBEL SON refers to the prestigious yearly award named after Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel for man’s highest contributions to the world in various scientific and humanitarian disciplines. Unfortunately, it is not long into the movie before the following statement is proclaimed, “Good and bad are not so absolute,” and in that quite unequivocal relativistic pronouncement, the tone is set for this unsavory story and rogue’s gallery which is to follow. To be fair, the Nobel Prize has had its share of controversy, but, in this case, it shines as polished gold by comparison.
Professor and scientist Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) has found a new way to make his life in academia more fun and exciting, and that is by seducing his young and beautiful female students and having sexual relations with them in his office. Eli’s conceit and lack for concern for anybody other than himself is almost legendary around campus, not only with his colleagues, but with his own family as well.
Eli’s son, Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, but in a rather dysfunctional sort of way. In other words, for his doctoral thesis Barkley has chosen the subject of “Human Cannibalism” in a not so subtle allusion to his father’s crass behavior. Enter City Hall. No, that is not what one would think; it is the name of the offbeat, actually off the wall, but beautiful, female poet/painter, whom Barkley falls for one night. Whether it was love or lust, the viewer will never know, but in this movie’s context, one could probably go with infatuation at best.
Eli’s wife Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) is a forensic psychiatrist. She also happens to be the most stable person of the lot, and without giving the plot away, it may be noted that her forensic and psychiatric skills prove very valuable later in the movie.
Eli has just been informed that he is this year’s Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry. He is invited to the award ceremony in Sweden with his whole family to receive the coveted award. On the day the family is scheduled to depart, Barkley is kidnapped and the prize money is demanded for a ransom.
True to form, Eli dismisses it at first as a prank, or perhaps a crude attempt at extortion by his son. Sarah, however, voices the only logical, love motivated position by urging her husband to do whatever it takes to secure Barkley’s release. The clever twists and turns that follow provide the “meat” of the story, but in the reels that follow, all that seemed to be was not what it was, and close attention has to be paid to fully understand the convoluted plot. The most important twist of all, however, is that, in the end it does not matter much what really was happening, because none of the characters are likeable enough for the audience to identify with any of them, or really care what happens to them.
NOBEL SON’s storyline is devilishly clever. The characters, to their own detriment, hit the mark as shallow, insensitive and selfish, while staying just short of the psychotic. Shawn Hatosy’s performance as Thaddeus James, the odd man out, is both creepy and riveting. Bill Pullman as detective Max Mariner, and Danny DeVito in a small part as the obsessive compulsive neighbor, play their parts by the book, but do not bring any special magic to this movie. Director/Writer Randall Miller, probably feeling that a little added insurance would not hurt, injects loud sound effects at every plot twist. Every time the action may be slowing down just a bit, viewers get blasted with some high decibel swish sound or another. Audiences who have grown to expect this plot device may love it, but the effects after a while begin to attract attention to themselves, and that is not something any director should want.
Perhaps the biggest stumble of all, however, for what has to be one of the more original and creative screenplays of the year is the constant swearing, graphic sexual content, bloody violence, even if tongue in cheek, and for the most part the callous, godless, insensitivity of most of the characters, their excuses notwithstanding. The unintended effect, unfortunately, is that the viewers may only be left with a clever story, but not an uplifting one. As such, the movie will most likely be soon forgotten.