Nobel Son

Nobel Son movie poster
MPAA rating: R
Genre: Drama
As his often cruel father (Alan Rickman) stands poised to receive the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, a young man (Bryan Greenberg) gets kidnapped and held for ransom.
Starring: Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenberg, Shawn Hatosy, Mary Steenburgen, Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku, Danny DeVito, Ted Danson, Ernie Hudson
Director: Randall Miller
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Editorial Review

A fine line separates the super smart from the super psycho, and a lot of people are dancing on it in "Nobel Son." Eli Michaelson, who has just won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, is a garden-variety narcissist and egomaniac, cruel to his family and friends, and predatory with his female students. When son Barkley, who studies cannibalism, is kidnapped, dark figures and secrets from Eli's past emerge, rearranging the family chessboard and driving even poor Barkley (perhaps) to practice what he studies.

It's all wildly implausible and occasionally fun, but it could be so much better if director Randall Miller (who co-wrote the screenplay) had thrown in a little more character development and excised a half-dozen crazy plot twists. We see where this might have gone when Eli (played with devilish glee by Alan Rickman) and his wife, Sarah (sensitively done by Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen), interact for a few, normal, human minutes in a car, coming back from the Nobel ceremony. But then a gruesome package arrives, and the movie lurches back to roller-coaster mode.

A better ear for how academics actually talk would help, too. But when you're trying to jam "The Silence of the Lambs," "Ocean's Eleven" and an Elizabethan revenge tragedy into the same film, there's no time for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

-- Philip Kennicott (Dec. 5, 2008)

Contains violent, gruesome images, language and sexuality.