1 item from 1998
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Bryan Singer revealed that he was planning to follow up his acclaimed "The Usual Suspects" with a Stephen King novella.
But Singer, working from an adaptation by first-time screenwriter Brandon Boyce, does it up right. An effectively chilling and quite disturbing psychological thriller, "Apt Pupil" is the best screen King in years and further evidence of Singer's potential as a filmmaker of considerable ability.
Screened this week at the Venice International Film Festival, the TriStar picture, though certain to spark controversy over its unflinching Holocaust themes, is apt to do some sturdy boxoffice when it arrives in theaters next month on the strength of excellent word-of-mouth and critical response.
As with "The Usual Suspects", Singer knows how to put together one terrific cast. Brad Renfro displays a deft clarity of character as 16-year-old Todd Bowden, an intense high school student who becomes obsessed with the Holocaust. When history class studies aren't enough to satisfy his burning curiosity, he spends his after-school hours in the library poring over reams of documentation.
Todd ends up getting more than he bargained for when he spots an elderly bus passenger (Ian McKellan), whom he recognizes from an SS photograph. After doing a little detective work involving dusting a mailbox for fingerprints, Todd goes to the man's house with the evidence.
The boy blackmails the elusive Nazi war criminal into providing the gory details of his past atrocities in exchange for his silence. But the compliant Kurt Dussander, or Arthur Denker as he is now known, proves to be neither as weak or as threatened as he would at first appear. Warning Todd that he's playing with fire, it soon becomes clear that both are in possession of a full box of matches, and the interchangeable game of cat and mouse that ensues makes for riveting viewing.
Singer and screenwriter Boyce keep it involving and unsettling, particularly in their decision to make the Renfro character a bit of a cipher. It remains (for the most part) deliberately unclear whether his actions stem from an overactive curiosity or something much darker or pathological.
There's a bit of Hitchcock in Singer's technical approach that suits the shades-of-gray material. That vibe is also captured by composer-editor John Ottman (who also wore both hats for "The Usual Suspects"), who works director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel's crisp, clean visuals into a rhythmic synergy with his thematically complex score.
Sony Pictures Releasing
Phoenix Pictures presents
a Bad Hat Harry production
A Bryan Singer film
Director: Bryan Singer
Producers: Jane Hamsher,
Don Murphy, Bryan Singer
Screenwriter: Brandon Boyce
Based on the novella "Apt Pupil" by: Stephen King
Executive producer: Tim Harbert
Director of photography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Production designer: Richard Hoover
Editor: John Ottman
Costume designer: Louise Mingenbach
Music: John Ottman
Casting: Francine Maisler, Kathryn Eisenstein
Kurt Dussander: Ian McKellen
Todd Bowden: Brad Renfro
Richard Bowden: Bruce Davison
Archie: Elias Koteas
Ed French: David Schwimmer
Monica Bowden: Ann Dowd
Running time -- 117 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1998
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