Friday, December 05, 2008

"Nobel Son" goes after "The Prize"


The “Nobel Son” is not exactly a noble son, although the plot of this indie comedy thriller almost mimics the intrigues in European courts. (I seem to remember that in Ninth Grade I wrote a “play” about the Duke of Burgundy with a plot like this. The manuscript is lost.) No, the movie really is set in modern day LA, shot in full 2.35:1 Arri widescreen, with a touch of bluish sepia and some overexposure, all the way down to a robo-car chase in the Puenta Hills Mall, which rather mimics the Mall of America in the movie. It doesn’t even earn the “DGC” seal, although it has the look of a Canadian thriller.

It’s directed by Randall Miller, written with Jody Savin, and has this tooth-throbbing sound track by Mark Adler and Paul Oakenfold (with a little Haydn thrown in). You sort of expect this from Screen Gems, but actually it comes from Freestyle Releasing (usually distributes horror and thriller genres, often appearing on DVD from Lionsgate), with “Unclaimed Freight” LLP as the production company. And like so many “indie” films today, it features big stars, some from the past, like Danny De Vito (who winds up dead in a bathrub in true Hitchcock fashion), Alan Rickman as the obnoxious professor Eli Michaelson, and Bryan Greenberg and Shawn Hatosy as the scheming “King Lear” type half brothers.

There is a bit of reference to Irving Wallace and Paul Newman’s movie “The Prize” as Eli and his strained wife (Mary Steenburgen) journey to Stockholm for the Nobel Prize in chemistry, but the fraternal kidnapping plot happens back home.

The other thing is that Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) is a PhD grad student himself, studying cannibalism in cultural anthropology, resentful of his Dad’s leash. That generates some startling violent images in the film (remember “Misery”?), even during the opening credits. The sequence where he gets seduced by his girl friend (with the help of a cat) is quite intimate, and is more like what you might find in gay cinema (even with a straight couple). Barkley makes himself the “hero” of sorts and remains quite likeable, staying above his own conniving.

I saw this movie in a small Regal Cinema auditorium on a late Friday night show and only three people (including me) were in the audience. I was surprised, given the somewhat favorable comments I've seen around about this intriguing and witty film.

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