Review: ‘Nobel Son’ on DVD
Every now and then you see a movie advertised as coming to video and you scratch your head wondering why you’ve never heard of it. Nobel Son, which opened December 8 and is available on DVD today, is just such a case. The film stars Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Eliza Dushku, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Ted Danson and Danny Devito. Pretty nifty cast.
Now, check out the official synopsis: On the eve of Barkley Michaelson’s father receiving the Nobel Prize, Barkley is kidnapped and the requested ransom is the $2,000,000 in Nobel Prize money. When his father refuses to pay it starts a venomous tale of familial dysfunction, lust, betrayal and ultimately revenge.
Sounds like it should be a pretty cool thriller. And yet. And yet the film lasted a mere three weeks during the holiday season and earned a meager $540,382 at the box office. As we’ve discussed previously, the timing for serious dramas was off this holiday season, a factor no one could anticipate or program around. Instead, films opened and the studios hoped for the best.
This film probably deserved a better audience, but it also deserved a sharper script. Randall Miller and his wife Jody Savin co-wrote the script which Miller directed and the story has flash-forwards and flashbacks, and weaves one scheme after another. However, by the time you get to the last scene, you’ve seen everyone scheme, everyone outsmart the next guy and it got too convoluted and clever for its own good.
One of the film’s failings has to be that they don’t round out any of the characters. You have the good son, the son-of-a-bitch father, the pretty and smart wife, the psycho girl, the dogged detective and little else. Admittedly, there are a few surprising character turns by the end, but there’s little to set these up and some feel tacked on or coming from left field. Instead, we needed to really care about one or two of the characters and keep things from being twisty and turny for its own sake.
A psychological thriller needs clear patches so the twists come as a surprise. Here, it’s all surprise and you wonder. Danny Devito’s OCD tenant in the home owned by Rickman and Steenburgen is a perfect example. He shows up, helps move the story along then his arc is dramatically closed but you wonder why he’s there at all. Similarly, Ted Danson plays Rickman’s Dean and has absolutely nothing to do in the film. Rickman plays a wonderful pompous ass but you have no clue why he’s married to Steenburgen, who is underutilized. Dushku plays a variation on her usual character and plays nicely off both Hatosy and Greenberg.
There’s a great story here, one that could have made for a real enjoyable experience but the writer didn’t service the director and the director didn’t visually add anything to help the writer. Being the same person, Miller failed his own film.
The movie comes with a bare bones assortment of features including three deleted scenes, one of which is an alternate ending that doesn’t change much. The Making Of featurette is lackluster and self-congratulatory.