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Apt Pupil

Released: 1998

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 1 hr 51 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro

In the 1980s in southern California, high school student Todd Bowden (Renfro) discovers fugitive Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander (McKellen) living in his neighborhood under the pseudonym Arthur Denker. Bowden, obsessed with Nazism and acts of the Holocaust, persuades Dussander to share his stories, and their relationship stirs malice in each of them.

The script manages to make the Holocaust seem almost trite.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 8 years ago

The old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television series was masterful at creating little, macabre stories packaged into self-contained 30-minute doses. It knew just how to take a simple story of seemingly ordinary people, who looked like our next-door neighbors, and make us wait for the ending punch. With a few diabolical flourishes, the show's conclusion would reveal the characters' hidden evil. Trimmed of its fat, APT PUPIL would have made an intriguing episode.

After director Bryan Singer's first mesmerizing and popular film, THE USUAL SUSPECT, his second has been widely anticipated. APT PUPIL, adapted by Brandon Boyce from the Stephen King novella, was Singer's choice for an attempt to repeat his first success.

In some ways an odd choice, the story has a paucity of material to work with. On the other hand, a Stephen King novel about the Holocaust certainly has lots of potential for shock value. For some reason Singer downplays the shock while asking his audience to wait an hour and a half before he lets the movie finally take off. For those with suitable patience the payoff is there, and the wait is made tolerable by a fascinating performance by Ian McKellen.

McKellen plays the part of an old Nazi concentration camp guard living in the United Sates under the name of Kurt Dussander. With bad skin and a scruffy beard, Dussander clutches his cigarettes in his grimy hands, smoking them down to the last gram of tobacco. His gruff voice hides a cauldron of atrocities, hidden deep in the inner reaches of his memory.

In a lackluster performance, Brad Renfro plays a bored but brightly inquisitive high school senior named Todd Bowden. Todd's history class has just finished their week on the Holocaust, but Todd is not ready to move on to other subjects. Obsessed, he researches the subject in the library until he tracks down a previously unknown Nazi guard (Dussander) living right in the town's midst.

Confronting Dussander with his crimes, Todd demands daily doses of death camp stories, or he will turn Dussander in to the police. Although there are a couple of cheap exploitation scenes of the killing of animals and a few spooky daydream scenes of concentration inmates, the movie is remarkable for its moderation. The script manages to make the Holocaust seem almost trite. The entire movie could be rewritten without that aspect and be remarkably unchanged. All they would need to do is have Dussander be a serial killer who hasn't harmed anyone in several decades.

The film, while eventually entertaining, takes little risks, following a formula you've seen many times before. It is worth seeing for Ian McKellen's work, but, if you are waiting for director Bryan Singer to demonstrate his brilliance again, you'll have to hope his third picture is a charm.

APT PUPIL runs 1:51. It is rated R for strong violence, sex, drug usage and profanity and would be fine for older teenagers.