American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
When Alan Rickman portrays an egomaniacal, preening, heartless SOB, he seems to have found himself an autobiographical role. Since Rickman the human being is kind, genial and well-loved, he is in fact acting in "Nobel Son," but who else could seem so utterly at home as a supercilious, snide, hurtful snake? I'm thinking maybe Richard E. Grant? The late Terry-Thomas, certainly. There really isn't a long list.
Rickman plays a brilliant chemist named Eli Michaelson, the kind of man who, when he wins the Nobel Prize, those who know him best exclaim, $#!t! His wife loves her work as a forensic pathologist, perhaps because when she is disassembling the victim of a run-in with an auto crusher, she can imagine it is her husband. Eli belittles his son in all things. He considers his colleagues inferiors at best, insectoid at worst.
In "Nobel Son," just when Eli is preparing to fly to Sweden and favor the crown with his presence, his son Barkley (Bryan Greenberg) is kidnapped. The ransom: Eli's $2 million prize money. (I am reminded of the day I called my mother to tell her I had won the Pulitzer, and she said, "Oh, honey, does it pay anything?" She meant well. She just didn't see how I could make a living just ... going to the movies.) Eli's inclination is to tell the kidnappers: "You keep my son, and I'll keep my money." Then a severed thumb arrives in the mail. Never a harbinger of good.
"Nobel Son" is a mercilessly convoluted version of a Twister, that genre in which the plot whacks us as if it's taking batting practice. I will not hint at anything that happens. I will simply observe that it's all entertaining. The plot by itself could have become tiresome; no audience enjoys spending all evening walking into stone walls. But the acting is another matter.