Between the time I bought my ticket and actually entered the theater, I had the following exchange with no fewer than four people (possibly more, I lost count):
"What are you seeing?"
"We have that?"
"Yup, just opened this weekend."
"Hm, never heard of it."
"Not many people have."
"What's it about?"
"Not sure, but it has Alan Rickman and Eliza Dushku. That's enough for me."
That is pretty close to an accurate transcript of what went down. I had seen the trailer once, but I wasn't sure what, exactly, it was. I thought it was a comedy, a thought shared by one of the theater managers. The problem — not really, but you understand — was that it was described alternately as a thriller and a psychological thriller. Weird that I thought it was more of a comedy, but whatever… I was willing to give it a shot. I went into the empty theater, with only two more audience members to arrive after me, and sat down with my popcorn (doubling as dinner, quite healthy) to prepare for the great unknown that was before me.
The movie played, the movie ended, and the three of us wandered out into the night. Not much conversation between the couple as they hurried to the exit, while I walked down the long hallway contemplating what I had seen. Well, contemplating may be a bit too strong a word; needless to say I was thinking about what just went down and I was coming up blank. In other words, the movie, while slightly stylish, did not do much for me. I actually felt bored during stretches despite the audio/visual flourishes that zipped us between scenes.
I hesitate to go too deeply into plot description, as it does jump around a bit and force you to put together the pieces. It strikes me as a low-rent version of what Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie do. I am reminded of Ritchie's RocknRolla, which had a rather mundane plot but was put together in a deliciously visual manner making it a movie that may not have had much under the surface, but was visually arresting. In a similar way, Nobel Son has the visual flourishes but it lacks the intelligence with which to pull it all together. The moderately comic crime feature wants to make you feel it is more clever than it really is, mistaking a convoluted plot labyrinth for intelligence.
Here is the general idea: Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman) is an egomaniacal, philandering chemistry professor who has just learned he is to be awarded the Nobel Prize. The morning the Michaelson family is set to fly to Sweden to accept the award, Eli's son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) is kidnapped by Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy), who plans to use him to get Eli's Nobel Prize money. Things do not go exactly as planned, as Eli's reaction is to keep the money and give up his son. This is enough to get the ball rolling. There are other people and elements that drive the twisty story forward including paper masks, a severed thumb, remote control Mini Coopers, an obsessive-compulsive named Gastner (Danny DeVito), and a girl named City Hall (Eliza Dushku). Nothing is quite as it seems and by the end you will surely have missed a step or two.
There were long stretches of whizzing and zipping cuts and sounds where I was just bored. I found no reason to care about any of these people, and the ones I wanted to learn more about did not get the time. The previously mentioned Alan Rickman and Eliza Dushku were the two I wanted more time with. Alan Rickman is incredible as the self-absorbed chemist; you truly want to despise him, yet also want to spend more time with him, see what makes him tick. As for Eliza Dushku, well it's Eliza Dushku… that and her character is a little odd, a little weird, and completely compelling.