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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think this was his first excellent movie. X-Men is his second. It was
very well done. The novella was a little bit darker but I think it went
out on a limb a little bit with the killing all those winos. The book
scared me more than the movie did. I think I like the movie a little
bit better. The movie seemed it stuck with blackmail, and power. In the
book the kid kills his guidance counselor. I like the way the end was
done much more in the movie. I believe there was a play on the shotgun
comment. You see, in the book, the kid got a shotgun. In the movie he
never liked guns. I think Brad Renfro is a wonderful actor and happens
to be the same age as me. The final confrontation with his counselor
was written and filmed well. Joshua Jackson has a small role. But,
plays it well. Back to Apt Pupil. Ian McKellan does an excellent job at
the role. I find it kind of strange that he plays a Nazi-war criminal
and then a Jew in X-Men. Yes he was a mutant but what happened to him
years ago in the concentration camp had a lot to do with the decisions
about humanity later in life. Both roles were done well.
Apt Pupil kind of scared you in a way to show you how much power someone can have over you if you screw up. Blackmail. I was fascinated by this movie. The detail of blackmail and power. No I don't plan going around making or showing these things but I would have liked to act in this movie playing Brad Renfro's role. I would give this movie a 9 out 10.
This is a psychological thriller indeed. Those who tend to like movies that have nice lovely ending or Jim Carrey slapstick will most likely not like this movie. Awesome.
"Apt Pupil" is well directed, with some interesting themes of power lust and evil feeding on itself, and great acting by Brad Renfro and Sir Ian McKellan, but I was put off by the very loose holds on reality. The plot alone is full of insane coincidences (a kid obsessed with the Holocaust just happens to bump into a Nazi war criminal, and that war criminal just happens to share a hospital room with one of his victims), but even the characterizations are a stretch. Renfro's character is very odd, and there is no given reason for why he is so naturally evil. And while it is hard enough to accept that McKellan would be bursting with evil 40 years later, with no hint of remorse (or even insight) about his past, it is completely ridiculous to assume he would be spending his evenings gassing cats and killing homeless people. The direction and acting make it worth watching, but in the end, I just couldn't take this overly serious movie seriously.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Apt. Pupil (1998): Dir: Bryan Singer / Cast: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, David Schwimmer, Bruce Davison, Elias Koteas: Film contains one alarming scene where a kid orders a Nazi to uniform himself and march until tension builds to a halt. The kid is the Apt. pupil and the lesson is control but what does he hope to accomplish? He shows up on the Nazi's doorstep and blackmails with supposed files. Eventually the Nazi tries to roast a cat in the oven while the kid mashes a broken winged pigeon with a basketball. Chilling work by director Bryan Singer who also made The Usual Suspect. Violent outcome with pointless scenes such as the kid's failed grades and the Nazi poising as his grandfather. Then a begger lands in his basement with a knife in his back. With the Nazi's heart failure, the kid bludgeons the begger with a shovel. Ian McKellen is strong as the Nazi who attempts to gain control over this situation only to run into greater conflicts. Brad Renfro is unreadable as the deranged kid who obviously lacks proper discipline. David Schwimmer is miscast as the principal who is also subjected to blackmail. Bruce Davison is cardboard as Renfro's father who will not likely receive any Father of the Year award. Elias Koteas plays a homeless guy subjected to murder and a cover-up. The theme is control, which eluded the screenwriter. Score: 3 ½ / 10
Apt Pupil is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story. The film is
set in the mid 1980s when a smart and cocky teenager, Todd Bowden
interested in World War 2 suspects a neighbour of being a fugitive
Both enter a game of oneupmanship as at first, the fugitive Nazi, Dussander (Ian McKellen) is on the back foot but the elderly man is wily and cunning and wrests control.
Bowden instead of turning the fugitive into the authorities wants to hear stories of the war and concentration camps, even gets Dussander to don a Nazi uniform and the relationship brings out demons on both the characters where a strange friendship and alliance ensues. Dussander even at one point pretends to be Bawden's grandfather in order to improve his school grades.
However events with a homeless man and a spell in hospital when Dussander becomes ill threatens to bring both their worlds crashing down.
The film is intriguing and interesting with a sly performance by McKellen who makes his character sympathetic at first, ashamed of his past. There is an interesting cameo by Michael Byrne as a concentration camp survivor (an actor best known for playing a Nazi in an Indiana Jones film.)
The film then starts to lose its way a little, becoming a little predictable, losing some tension along the way. I understand the film departs from King's novella in its conclusion and although not wholly successful the film is still worth investing your time.
Unlike many people, I enjoy adaptations that stray from their source
material as long as it lends a different perspective or tells the story
in a way that both the adaptation and source can be enjoyed on their
own merit, but this film completely misses the point of the Stephen
King novella that it is based on.
Aside from this point, the acting was unbelievable and actually quite laughable throughout and you could tell that this was not the fault of the actors, but the direction of the actors and possibly a rushed production. And it is a very rushed production because the story is over and told before we can even completely feel, see and understand what drives the characters to behave in the way they do.
The novella is about human corruption and the evils of human nature and explores how the evil of the holocaust transcends just those events and could lead to something of greater if humans allow themselves to become corrupted. Although this film adaptation seems to acknowledge this theme, so many shocking things happen in the source that are completely lost in the film that the viewer is not allowed to see the weight of the corruption.
Many things simply make little or no sense in the film because the story is so rushed. Dialogue is often quoted verbatim from the novella, but lose their power and are actually somewhat confusing because other parts of the novella that are crucial to the characters' development are not even mentioned. Things happen in the film that make you think, why did they do that? That's strange, no one would do that in real life without motivation, unless they were crazy, of course. But we haven't established that anyone is crazy. Stupid perhaps, but not crazy.
On the subject of stupidity, it's important to note that throughout the film, I get more of an impression that the 'apt pupil' is actually pretty stupid and is not even convincingly academically intelligent.
The ending of the novella was unsettling and provocative, but the ending of the film was just a reminder that you wasted an hour and a half of your life that you will not get back. And the way it ended, what was the point? I won't say what happened although I can't say that this film can even be spoiled because nothing really happened in it, but the whole film was pointless. It was like the series finale of Dexter all over again...
It's such a shame because Ian McKellen really looked the part of Dussander and played him very well as much as Bryan Singer let him... I think I'll watch Shawshank to cleanse my film palate..
Ian McKellan is a Nazi war criminal hiding long-term in suburban America. Four decades after the war, a bright high school student with a fascination about WWII marks him on a bus ride and the two embark on a lengthy game of one-upsmanship. Oddly, the kid seems the more villainous of the two, though McKellan is himself far from heroic. I can't shake the sense that the concept was more daring than the film in this case. Featuring a Nazi in a decidedly grey light is a different take, for sure, but I felt like the filmmakers were always too afraid to go anywhere truly risqué with that material, and the core relationship between the two leads is toothless and pantomimed. Maybe that can be primarily chalked up to acting - Brad Renfro, who plays the kid, is positively grating in the role - but even removing that from the equation doesn't completely settle my stomach. It's a film that dances and loiters, but rarely has much to say of genuine power or meaning; wannabe edgy, using the taboo of an old war uniform to mask a serious lack of substance. Even the big reveal at the end, when everything comes apart at the seams, is hollow, telegraphed and half an hour behind schedule.
APT PUPIL is the big budget film adaptation of the Stephen King novella
of the same name, about an ordinary high school pupil who strikes up an
unlikely friendship with a former Nazi. I remember the King story as
being particularly chilling and disturbing given the subject matter,
and it's no surprise the nastiness has been toned down for this big
APT PUPIL isn't a bad movie and indeed it starts off rather well. Ian McKellen, just before he hit the mainstream with X-MEN and LORD OF THE RINS, is outstanding as the former Nazi forced to relive his murky past, and the scene in which he dresses up in the full regalia is inevitably the film's chilling highlight.
Unfortunately, at around the halfway point the movie starts to fall apart a little bit and the script lets it down. Brad Renfro just isn't a strong enough actor for the complexities of the lead role and McKellen isn't given enough to do in the latter stages. The excellent Elias Koteas bags a tiny yet highly sympathetic role and cult film fans may recognise James Karen in a one-scene cameo. But the story has been unforgivably altered and the lukewarm ending is a particular disappointment considering the potency of King's original climax.
Before I even start my review of this movie (which I liked) I gotta say
"Apt Pupil" has got to be the goofiest name for a story since the
hilarious 30 Rock spoof "Rural Juror". Say it 10 times fast and you'll
feel like you just came back from the dentist.
There have been many films and books that attempt to explain the horror that we humans are capable of. While I haven't read the Stephen King nouvelle "Apt Pupil", I can tell you this film adaptation kept my attention and tossed around some new ideas I hadn't really considered.
If you haven't already seen it, search for the Stanley Milgram experiment. It was a psychological test done by a Yale student back in the 1960s offering one of the most chilling explanations for the phenomenon of Nazism, a convincing illustration of how humans can do horrific things. The gist is that we convince ourselves that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing ("just following orders" or "everyone told me to do it"). The video is online on dailymotion.
"Apt Pupil" surprised me by taking a very different approach which I won't ruin for you. I'll just say that it weaves a complex Machiavellian scheme, where evil is deliberate and conscious of itself. It finds its footing by creating a balance of power, reminiscent of the "mutual assured destruction" philosophy in the 80s that led the USA and Russia to stockpile enough nukes to send us to the Smurf universe.
OK, enough background. Let's talk about the film already. If the premise doesn't capture you instantly, the impressive directing and musical score should suck you in with its heavy, foreboding mood. Ian McKellan (probably best known as Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings but also an accomplished Shakespearean actor) is excellent in the role of an ex- Nazi... a menacing enigma somewhere between a serial killer and a cranky grandfather.
Brad Renfro appears on screen as the perfect naïve kid with a perpetual deer-in-the- headlights expression, sort of like John Cusack in the 80s but without the laughs. The film focuses mainly on the transformation of Renfro's character. It's here where I was unconvinced, and I docked the film a point or 2. Renfro's character mutates so suddenly and drastically you'd think he sucked down some radioactive sludge. I feel a lot of his "experiments with evil" were uncharacteristic and thrown in for shock value. No matter how curious a person is, nobody goes from Pollyanna to animal mutilations in just a month or two. It was this seemingly random, inexplicable moral decay which I felt was just injected for cheap shock value. If you can get past that, the real theme emerges.
The root of human evil, according to "Apt Pupil," is not random moral decay but actually a complex struggle for power. When this theme emerged in the latter half, that's when I perked up and paid attention. The story then takes on a suspenseful air, and the kid & the Nazi get into an interesting game of cat & mouse.
Overall, I'll stick with the Stanley Milgram experiment for the most convincing explanation of human atrocities. But "Apt Pupil" definitely delivers some food for thought. Another film that provides insight is the criminally underrated "Exorcist III" with George C. Scott and Brad Dourif playing mind games in an insane asylum. Also check out the documentary "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer," or on the lighter side, "Dr. Strangelove" makes an interesting commentary on why humans commit genocide. Who knows why humans kill, maim and torture. But as long as we keep investigating there may be hope for us.
In the late 1990's there was a small resurgence in interest in the work
of Stephen King, who had been popularised in the 1970's and '80's as
the prime horror author. What was slightly more interesting about this
late reprisal, was that the stories were not directly linked to the
horror genre, and led to one of the most loved films of the 1990's, The
Shawshank Redemption (1994). Whilst this film did not do well in the
cinemas, it made it's impact on video, and therefore the more dramatic,
cerebral and often realistic King adaptation's were given the green
light. Hot off the success of 1995's The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer
was brought in to direct this story of power over other humans, and the
devastation this can cause.
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) is a top student in his high-school, and the film opens on a closing class focusing on the holocaust. The subject has clearly opened up something in the young man. Being convinced that there is an ex-Nazi officer living secretly in his neighbourhood, he decides to pay the man, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), a visit. What transpires is that Todd had collected research on the subject, and uses this to blackmail Kurt into revisiting and verbalising his war stories, with particularly macabre focus on the killing of Jews. As the relationship between the two progresses it becomes clear that what fascinates Todd the most, is the power that was exerted over a people, and he has a hunger to know what this power is like. This begins with his power over Kurt; he revels in a display of power after he purchases a Nazi uniform for Kurt and makes him march on the spot. However the power that Todd exposes, is also resurfaced in the very isolated old man.
Well, as this is a Stephen King adaptation, the film obviously leads to murder. But the main theme of the film is the abuses of power, and the corrupting nature of power over others. It's a very interesting film, and Singer's direction is spot on. Seeing this now also highlights the loss of a very promising actor, Brad Renfro, who unfortunately died of a drug overdose in 2008. However, without any doubt this is McKellen's film. He is note perfect for this ageing, lonely man, who has had to live with his knowledge of the concentration camps for many years. The film does tend to lose it's effect at times, and falls into a clichéd trap; for example, after Kurt has attempted to kill a homeless guy, but has to get the young Todd to finish the job after suffering a heart attack, Todd repeatedly hits the tramp with a shovel - a jump moment proceeds as the tramp gets back up after 'being killed' - yawn. However, this seems mainly to be the fault of the narrative, and is easy to overcome, particularly with the two fine central performances.
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