Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro star in a dark drama about a sixteen-year-old honor student who recognizes an old man living in his hometown as a hunted Nazi. Compelled to reveal the secrets of his death camp past to earn the boy's silence, the German fugitive derives a sinister scheme to implicate the teenager in a dangerous psychological game.
At the top of his game, Stephen King has a real gift for mining monsters--zero-at-the-bone horror--out of everyday faces and places. Adapted from a novella in the 1982 collection that also spawned Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil looks at first as if it might draw authentically enlightening terror from the soul-cancer that makes blood relations of a Southern California golden boy (Brad Renfro) and an aging Nazi war criminal (Sir Ian McKellen). Turned on by a high-school course about the Holocaust, Todd Bowden (such a bland handle for this top-of-his-class sociopath!) tracks down Kurt Dussander, a former Gestapo killer hiding in the shadows of sunny SoCal. Blackmailing the old man into sharing his firsthand stories of genocide, the teenager trips out on the virtual reality of the monster's memories. There's perverse play here on the way a kid hungry for knowledge can bring a long-retired teacher or grandparent back to life. Truly superb as James Whale in Gods and Monsters, McKellen brings subtlety to this Stephen King creepshow: his dessicated Dussander is like a mummy or vampire revivified by Todd's appetite for atrocity.
Considerable talent intersects in Apt Pupil: It's director Bryan Singer's first film since The Usual Suspects, that enormously popular, rather heartless thriller-machine. The outstanding cast also includes David Schwimmer as a Jewish guidance counselor pathetically impotent in the face of Todd's talent for evil, and Bruce Davison as Todd's All-American Dad, lacking the capacity to even imagine evil. And the story itself has the potential for gazing into the heart of darkness right here in Hometown, U.S.A. But Apt Pupil just turns ugly and unclean when it trivializes its subject, equating Holocaust horrors with slamming a cat into an oven or offing a nosy vagrant (Elias Koteas). Reducing the great spiritual abyss that lies at the center of the 20th century to cheap slasher-movie thrills and chills is reprehensible. Both Todd and the writers of Apt Pupil should have heeded the old saw: When supping with the devil, best use a long spoon. --Kathleen Murphy
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Top Customer Reviews
In the film, an American high-school honor student (Brad Renfro) who is fascinated by the history of WWII--specifically the Holocaust--discovers that an elderly German émigré (Ian McKellen) living in the neighborhood is actually a hunted Nazi war criminal incognito, and the clever boy is able to gather enough evidence of this fact that he could easily expose the old man's true identity. But instead of turning his data over to the authorities, the boy uses it to muscle the elderly gent into sharing the details of the atrocities he committed during the war--details that "they're afraid to tell us about in school."
Of course, the old Nazi is outraged, but he also knows he's been trapped. So he ultimately resigns himself to the situation, and detailed stories of heinous actions he does tell.Read more ›
The story centers around an intrepid young suburbanite who tracks down an elderly Nazi war criminal in his neighborhood. The teenager, Todd, (played by Brad Renfro) at first has the older man where he wants him and humiliates the Nazi Kurt Dussander (played masterfully by Sir Ian McKellan) and forces him to give him graphic accounts of his crimes, always hanging the evidence he has against him as the "sword of Damacles" over his head. However, through an interesting series of events, the teenager's school troubles result in a stunning reversal of fortune for Todd and he is forced by Dussander to do his bidding. All of the while, Todd is slowly becoming like the evil Dussander whom he despises and is facinated with. Todd's strange evolution from a pigeon killer to a cruel blackmailer and murderer is stunning.
David Schwimmer also has a great role as Todd's hapless guidance counselor Ed French. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool enemy of the TV show Friends, but Schwimmer's performance was excellent and gave me a newfound respect for him as an actor.
While most alterations of books in the translation from page to screen are almost always for the worst, the film version significantly alters the ending of the book for a vastly improved effect. The book ends in a typical Stephen King-esque gory way. The film's conclusion is more in-line with the subtle and creepy tone of the entire book and is much better than the book's ending.
The bottom line is that this is a vastly underrated movie (much like the Shawshank Redemption when it first came out in theaters) and another great adaptation coming from a Stephen King book (makes me wonder when someone is going to put out "The Breathing Method" on film).
Most recent customer reviews
This movie is one of the best I have ever seen it is so believable you cannot guess for one second right up to the end what is going to happen.Published on March 17 2013 by Nath
Thank you for delivering this DVD. The story, which I had read in "Different Seasons" by Stephen King, is very intense. Read more
This movie was not a horror movie like the preview might stimulate it as being but it is more of a dark drama, until the middle when it starts going into the thriller genre. Read morePublished on May 27 2004 by R
'Apt Pupil' was half decent until the ending, where the resolution of the story was ridiculously implausable. Read morePublished on April 10 2004 by Dhaval Vyas
Buoyed by the marvelous performances of Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro, APT PUPIL, Stephen King's expose on the horrors of the Holocaust, manages to entertain and provoke thoughts of... Read morePublished on April 9 2004 by Michael Butts
As usual, it seems like the director never reads the book. We all rented this and were disappointed up to the end. Read morePublished on March 27 2004 by Johny Bottom
This is one of Stephan King's best stories that was turned in an ok movie. The story was more graphic and the ending was much better, but this is an excellent movie all the same. Read morePublished on March 25 2004
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