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Thursday, December 11,2008

A 'Nobel' attempt

Interesting twists save over-stuffed movie

by Susan W. Woods
Mary Steenburgen and Alan Rickman in "Nobel Son." (Courtesy photo)


 “Nobel Son” is one of those movies that tries to be so many things at once — in this case a black comedy, a kidnap thriller and an homage to classic films — that it ends up not being much of anything.

Add fast-cut editing (a la “City of God”), fancy lensing stolen from Alfred Hitchcock and Brian de Palma, throbbing techno music and over-the-top acting into the mix, and you have a cinematic mess.
However, what redeems “Nobel Son” are its engaging plot twists, which keep your attention as you try to figure out what’s happening; there are more twists in this movie than there are in the garland on your Christmas tree (and more holes in this time-jumping story than there are in all the golf courses in Michigan). But hey, don’t give up on this movie.

The cast features a kinetic circus of actors who savor and have fun with their roles. The always-talented Alan Rickman plays professor Eli Michaelson, a loathsome, egomaniacal, cruel genius, who wins the Nobel Prize, much to the disgust of his wife, son and colleagues. Rickman rolls around in this role with supreme pleasure, like a hog in mud, licking his acting chops.

His smart, beautiful, much-cheated-on wife is played by Mary Steenburgen, who rises above the messy story with aplomb.

Danny DeVito rubs his hands in anguish as the obsessive-compulsive neighbor who complicates the plot with his narrow understanding.

But the standout performances in this movie are given by Shawn Hatosy (“Alpha Dog”), as a brilliant psychotic kidnapper, and Eliza Dushku (best known for her roles in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series), as a very sexy poet from the dark side.  

Watching “Nobel Son” is kind of like visiting an amusement park; some of the rides are thrilling and others give you a headache, but in all you are glad you went. The movie also provides some good post-show discussion, as viewers try putting all the pieces together and find the gaping holes.

‘Nobel Son’
Directed by Randall Miller
Rated R, 110 minutes
Rating: ** 1/2  (out of five)


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