Nobel Son

Nobel Son

Promotional poster
Directed by Randall Miller
Produced by Art Klein
Michael Ravine
Tom Soulanille
Written by Randall Miller
Jody Savin
Starring Alan Rickman
Bryan Greenberg
Shawn Hatosy
Mary Steenburgen
Bill Pullman
Eliza Dushku
Danny DeVito
Music by Paul Oakenfold
Mark Adler
Cinematography Mike Ozier
Edited by Randall Miller
Distributed by Freestyle Releasing
Release dates
  • April 28, 2007 (2007-04-28) (Tribeca Film Festival)
  • December 5, 2008 (2008-12-05) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million[1]
Box office $545,582

Nobel Son is a 2007 American black comedy about a dysfunctional family dealing with the kidnapping of their son for ransom following the father's winning of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The film features Alan Rickman as the prize-winning professor and Mary Steenburgen as his wife, with Bryan Greenberg as their kidnapped son.

Principal photography for Nobel Son started on October 6, 2005, in Venice Beach, California, and ended on November 17, 2005. The official trailer and website were released on January 12, 2007.


Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman), a self-involved chemistry professor, learns he has been awarded the Nobel Prize. After verbally abusing his wife, son, colleagues, and nominal girlfriend, he heads off to Sweden with his wife, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen), to collect his award. His son, Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), misses the flight.

Barkley Michaelson has chosen to study not chemistry but anthropology, and this perceived failure triggers constant torrents of abuse from his father. His missing the flight, though, is the apparently innocent result of having been kidnapped by the deranged Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy), who claims to be Eli Michaelson's son by the wife of a former colleague. Thaddeus successfully obtains a ransom of $2 million, which he then splits with Barkley who, it appears, has orchestrated the kidnapping to obtain money from his father.

Shortly after Barkley's release, Thaddeus rents a garage apartment from the Michaelsons and begins to charm Eli with his knowledge of chemistry. Barkley undertakes a campaign of psychological terror aimed at Thaddeus and his girlfriend, performance artist City Hall (Dushku). This ultimately results in the death of Thaddeus and commitment to a mental hospital for City.

Meanwhile, Barkley kidnaps Eli and threatens to expose the scientific fraud that led to Eli receiving a Nobel prize that he did not deserve. Eli's long suffering wife, Sarah, demands a divorce while praising her son for his devious behavior.

In the final scenes, Sarah, Barkley, and Sarah's police detective boyfriend, Max Mariner (Pullman) are seen on a tropical beach. Mariner appears to have been in the dark through most of the movie, but has figured out towards the end that he wants to be with Sarah and can live with the theft of $2 million from her scoundrel husband. Eli is seen in his classroom unrepentantly flirting with another student. He has lost his wife, son, and the money, but it's unclear whether he still has his Nobel Prize.


Cameos include Ted Danson and Tracey Walter as university colleagues of Eli Michaelson, and Ernie Hudson as a police detective aiding in the ransom negotiation.


The film was screened from April 28 – May 2, 2007 at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The entire cast attended the premiere and all of the screenings were sold-out. It received broadly negative reviews, with only a 23% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes,.[2] Manohla Dargis, writing for The New York Times described the film as "an aggressively noisy exercise in style over substance about nasty people doing nasty things to one another."[3] Roger Ebert gave it a positive review.[4] The film was also called "entertaining" by a reviewer on Ain't It Cool News.[5]

Over a year after its initial public screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, Nobel Son was picked up for distribution by Freestyle Releasing and was released in theaters on December 5, 2008.


The film was widely panned by critics. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 25% of critics gave positive reviews based on 65 reviews, with an average score of 4.2/10. The site's consensus reads, "Despite the best efforts of a strong cast, Nobel Son is over-plotted and self-consciously odd."[6] Metacritic, based on a normalized rating from 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, gave the film an average score of 28/100, based on 18 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[7]


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