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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'Apt Pupil'

11 September 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

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

TriStar Pictures

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


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