A Shock to the System
What a drastic shift in style and substance Nobel Son is for director Randall Miller, who previously this year gave us Bottle Shock, the somewhat quiet docu-drama about the triumph of the wine industry in California. In direct contrast, this film is a loud, grotesquely humorous, and noirish kidnapping thriller with more plot twists then you can shake a stick at. Fortunately, that’s just how I like them.
Miller reunites with his Bottle Shock stars Bill Pullman, Eliza Dushku, and Alan Rickman for this film in which Rickman plays an egotistical, adulterous college professor who, it was just announced, is being presented with the Nobel Prize. “That will cement his ego” says his forensic-psychologist wife who has been putting up with his many indiscretions for too many years. Meanwhile, their son Barkley is working on his anthropology thesis paper on the taboo subject of cannibalism.
Hoping to take advantage of the professor’s newfound success and monetary security is a young man who may have more motivation then he immediately leads us to believe. The too-smart-to-be-an-auto-mechanic Thaddeus kidnaps Barkley and demands a two million dollar ransom. There’s just one problem. Thaddeus did not anticipate just how much the professor seems to prefer his own vanity, even to his only son. Fortunately though, he’s got an ace up his sleeve.
This is really only the jumping off point for Nobel Son which turns into that classic kind of film noir in which every character has his or her own motivation and somewhat loose morals. This leads to enough backstabbing, betrayal, and misrepresentation to keep your head spinning right up to the mostly unexpected conclusion.
Of course, no film noir is complete without a femme fatale and Nobel Son has one in the form of Elisha Dushku’s City Hall. Okay, so the nickname may be a little too goofy, but it actually works for the character who is not only a seductress, but also a bit of an oddball: a character flourish all the more understood by the end of the film.
The film’s highlight sequence is a ransom exchange that plays more like a classic heist sequence in which Thaddeus and his accomplice race a Cooper Mini containing the money around the floor of a shopping mall via remote control, sending the undercover cops into a frenzy.
The scene’s action is punctuated on the soundtrack by a techno beat that painfully reminds me of some of my worst nightclub experiences. The music may work well to pump up the adrenaline for this sequence, but Miller continues to use this music even in sequences that don’t warrant it, as if he were attempting to make up for a story that couldn’t punctuate itself. It’s a little much, however, and I always figure if the music is drawing attention to itself than it is not serving the story as it should. Then again, if the intent of the music was to put me on edge, it certainly achieved its purpose.
That’s really the only major complaint I have with this film, which kept me entertained from start to finish. There was some questionably over-the-top acting in spots and portions of the plot can be somewhat predictable, but there were still enough surprises in store. Nobel Son is not a great crime thriller, but it is a very good one and I enjoyed it.
Nobel Son is rated R for “some violent, gruesome images, language and sexuality.” The gruesome images were surprising and nearly had the lady next to me needing to be excused. The R rating is certainly warranted.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Nobel Son.