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Apt Pupil
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Ummmmmm.......Sorely Disappointed!

Author: Melody McLain (joyfuldead@aol.com) from Hattiesburg, MS
19 July 2001

I had heard lots of good things about this movie. I am rather fond of Stephen King......But this Movie......I didn't like it. Maybe it's just me. I was expecting, to be frightened, freaked out, Stirred Emotionally...nah... Didn't happen. Oh Well!

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An interesting look at Nazism

Author: jpgburnett from Brittany, France
31 May 2001

I admit that I did not expect much of this movie. I know Bryan Singer directed The Usual Suspects, a classic, but he also was responsible for X-Men. And I'd heard mixed reviews of it. But, Brad Renfro was great in the Cure, as was Ian McKellan in God and Monsters. Plus, I got it cheap so...

Renfro plays Todd, a high school student who's top of his class, and a great baseball player to boot. He develops a fascination with the Holocaust and researches as much on it as possible. One day, he discovers that an old German man living up the road (McKellan) is in fact Kurt Dussander, a wanted Nazi former concentration camp officer. He assembles a ton of information on the man and collects proof of his identity. He then blackmails him: Todd won't inform the Israeli authorities if Kurt will tell him all the stories about the Holocaust that "they don't tell us in school".

It starts off harmlessly enough, but the stories begin to weigh on Todd's mind, and his school results go down. He also begins to develop a disagreeable behaviour towards his friends. His obsession grows: in one scene he gets Kurt an SS uniform and orders him to march, feeling he now has complete control over Kurt. He also kills an injured pigeon, a parallel to Kurt's attempt to kill a cat by putting it in an oven. But Kurt is pure evil, still a dedicated Nazi and Todd makes the mistake of crossing him. It is no longer Todd who controls Kurt, but the other way around, as they begin to resemble each other. The ending scenes are particularly unstirring...

This is an interesting look at Nazism and evil. They are contagious, evil spreads. Todd, facinated with what Kurt did, doesn't realize that he is becoming like him. And Kurt, haunted by what he did, still can't rid himself of his evilness. It's a chilling portrayal of the psychological power the Nazis had over people. As Nietzshe said, the desire of power animates us, guides our actions. Here, it makes us do evil.

Singer redeems himself with this. There is great acting, especially from McKellan and Renfro, though the latter doesn't live up to what he had me expecting after seeing the Cure. Stephen King, who wrote the book of Apt Pupil, is a genius and this is one the best adaptations. There are also some great camera techniques, too. A truly gripping drama.

Uppers: 1)The gripping portrayal of the Nazi mind and it's terrifying influence; 2)McKellan's performance; 3)Renfro's performance; 4)Singer's directing; 5)The creepy light effects; 6)The ending scenes Downers: 1)David Schwimmer's moustache; 2)Not quite as good nor as creepy as Marathon Man

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What a bad movie!

5/10
Author: fateswarm from Crete@Greece
30 March 2001

What a good direction spoiled with such a bad script. I mean the dialogues were good and the symbolisms even better but what about the rest?

It was just another movie: Look how bad nazis are.

or: Look how many nazis live around us.

NOTHING changed in the whole movie and the WORST:

NOTHING new was discovered.

WE KNOW THESE THINGS, YOU DON'T HAVE TO REMIND US. Wasn't Schindler's List enough for the rest 30 years? That was a VERY good film though. Not that bad attempt of showing a psychological-background that it's not there at all.

NAZIS are bad.

KILLING is bad.

We know that. We need something new from a movie.

AMERICAN HISTORY X: Gives a good SOLUTION to the problem. Not just THE PROBLEM. Or watch SCHINDLER'S LIST. That gives a good aproach to the goodness people have deep inside.

Let's make good movies. Fresh, new, giving solutions, giving reality, giving beauty.

Thanks for reading me.

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apt acting by Ian McKellen

Author: pjgrant (pjgrant80@hotmail.com) from Cambridge, England
13 March 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(spoiler, possibly) Ian McKellen plays a Nazi war criminal who has successfully hidden his past and lived in America since escaping conviction. In a time when we happily watch heroes fight evil robots in futuristic worlds it is striking to see something as convincing as McKellen's portrayal of Kurt Dussander - this evil on a monstrous scale is so clearly made human in an unremarkable American neighbourhood. This more than anything what made this film worth seeing.

The apparent weakness of Dussander when first confronted by Brad Renfro's character is more striking on a second viewing, when the contrast with Dussander's later behaviour really shows. The scene where Dussander is ordered to march and gets so thoroughly into the role that the blackmailing teenager is horrified by what he sees - this is powerful viewing. The loneliness of the old man is shown so well by cutting between Dussander sitting alone outside, talking to a cat, while young Todd is in a car talking to a fine young lady. McKellen plays it all so well, and as we might guess, the Nazi war criminal starts to play the game himself, very convincingly.

Despite the quite suburban setting, there are some horrible scenes which set out the idea most clearly that we are dealing with something worse than we can easily comprehend. Nightmare visuals are used to great effect, but the most moving of all involves no special effects at all, just a minor character acting. This film is dark and in places very unpleasant, but in some parts there is also a substantial amount of emotion, suddenly building up and almost getting carried away. With Ian McKellen's brilliant performance as well, I rate this film highly.

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Evil Empire

Author: ltj36 (ltj36@hotmail.com) from Castle Rock, Maine
30 October 2000

The greatest thing in "Apt Pupil" is the ambiguity which rules in the movie. There is an old man, which was a cruel Nazi during the war and a young American boy who discovers the truth about his identity. So, it can seem that the Nazi is the evil and the boy is the good but it isn't so. They are both two champions of evil, because the young Todd blackmails the old Dussander and menaces him to tell to the city who he is. if the Nazi wants to keep him silent, he must tell him all the secrets of the tortures of war. They made their diabolic pact and Todd falls in a hell of death and suffering, absorbed and involved by it. Dussander is old, probably he wants to forget what he did and live the rest of his life persecuted in silence by his ghosts. Not Todd. he is animated by a thin hate and curiosity for evil, he thinks to be a sort of super hero, blackmailing the old man, but he is a man worst than him. it's impressive the scene when Dussander walks, dressed like a Nazi and Todd tries but he can't, be cause the man is completely possessed. Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen give two great performances, the first confirms himself as one of the best actors of his age with a killer look and an evil mind, the second is still great, intelligent and magnetic (like his new character in "The X-Men!"). Look at their eyes, they hide in themselves all the cruelty of the world.

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I should have known better..

Author: Suki Woo from Amsterdam
16 August 2000

I should have known and learned from experience ... "most screen adaptations of Stephen King's writing suck", and "never watch a film where the lead role is played by a teenager". I'm afraid many critics on this site are overselling this flick - surely destined for Sunday afternoon snooze t.v.

McKellen sleepwalks through this (so as not to wake you up) and is never convincing as either a sadist or an old nazi- A sub-B movie performance. Compare with his virtuoso Richard III - or look at Olivier in Marathon Man - it can be done.

The art of cinema includes making unbelievable scenarios believable and entertaining. This fails on both counts. I knew we were in trouble when the boy's family insist on meeting this old man he's spending every evening with, and are completely satisfied after he's told a couple of jokes. The dramatic tension could be compared with a tightly stretched green bean.

And the aforementioned teenager is not an "apt pupil" of McKellen in acting! The best performance was from the cat, (in another ridiculous scene) - he jumped out of the window never to be seen again at the earliest opportunity.

Could have said something about corruption, evil, redemption, or lack of it but ended up being boring and shallow. I had to check my pulse at regular intervals. Null Points - and shame on McKellen for a performance that he would surely better on his own holiday videos!

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Decent dark movie

Author: darkneox119 from Funtown, Indiana
6 August 2000

Apt Pupil is about an ordinary high school boy who has a deep fascination with the Holocaust. He suspects that his neighbor was in league with the Nazis back in the day. The boy then goes to the old man to get tutored and slowly but surely gets the oldman to dish details about the Holocaust. The boy's fascination turns into obsession. Story moves alittle slow sometimes but when it takes it's plot turns, the atmosphere picks up. Decent display of darkness in peoples hearts. This film makes a good point that psychos can be everywhere in modern suburbia. **1/2 out of ****

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Holocaust and conventional horror do not mix!

5/10
Author: Ian Harrison from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
30 July 2000

When I was a teenager like the character Brad Renfro plays in "Apt Pupil," I had my first encounter with the Holocaust and was compelled to know more. For me, "Schindler's List" provided much of that inspiration. Today, I am still grappling with this past reality, trying to understand how our world could sink to such a despicable low. The key difference between our little friend in this film and myself is I used books and other films to answer my queries. Renfro goes for the preposterous angle: he blackmails a former Nazi war criminal living in the neighborhood to tell him stories of his horrific past. This is not what I had in mind, and it's a good thing I didn't, or else I could have been the subject of a bad film like this one.

Ian McKellen delivers a great performance as the ex-Nazi in question, known as Kurt Dussander but posing under an assumed name. McKellen really digs into the character, physically and vocally. However, his great work is marred by a terribly conventional script that begins with inspiration and turns into a depressing horror melodrama. Not meaning to spoil anything, but why would an ex-Nazi ever be intimidated by a seventeen-year old boy, let alone a homeless drunk? If you are attempting to hide out in America, why let anyone into your residence in the first place? I liked the coldness of his character, but I was also searching for more complexity and insight from him into a subject which I knew quite a bit about. This I did not receive.

To add to this sour picture, I really disliked the Renfro character. If this intelligent brat was really that smart, he would be smart enough not to cross a former Nazi for fear of being killed or alienated too much for his own good. A safer way to research the Holocaust up close would be to interview a Jewish survivor of the blitz rather than one of the perpetrators. There's an almost laughable scene where Renfro walks by an old guy in a hospital bed who evidentally recognizes McKellen as his old nemesis, who happens to be in the bed next to him. Wouldn't it have been easier for Renfro to question this old dude instead of a decrepit Nazi who just wanted to be left alone? I suppose that would be too simple.

Rating: One star and a half.

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Fear of the Unknown

Author: (sora@interaccess.com) from Chicago, IL
14 July 2000

Prolific horror writer H.P. Lovecraft once wrote that (paraphrasing) the oldest emotion of mankind is fear, and no fear is stronger than fear of the unknown.

Those words seem to apply to all of Bryan Singer's films. In "Public Access", "The Usual Suspects", and "Apt Pupil" he creates singularly evil characters, let's them do terrible things, but doesn't offer a great deal of insight into their deeper nature.

It is a storytelling decision (which I believe is conscious, not sloppy or lazy writing) that seems to bother many critics and vieweres. Why does the stranger in "Public Access" choose to spin his web in the small town? What makes the young teen so fascinated by the Holocaust in "Apt Pupil"? Who or what the hell is Keyser Soze?

We never get to the bottom of it, but I think that what makes the characters so extraordinarily creepy. It's the same kind of eerie feeling when one contemplates the teenagers at Columbine, or serial killers like Jeffery Dahmer. What motivated them, at what point did these human beings deviate from the norm and become monsters?

In real life, I don't believe there is a single answer. We can blame television, bad parenting, drugs, the economy, the government, unpleasant bosses, etc. But it always comes up inadequate.

But I think that your average American hates this lack of clarity. People want to know what makes a bad guy. It gives a person relief to know that they aren't the monster, they they are the good guys. But the truth is, you never know, and never will. Maybe there is no reason, which is the scariest reason at all.

Apt Pupil offers a few short glimpses of what makes Brad Renfro's character tick. He appears to be extremely intelligent, signified by his good grades and graduating as a high school valedictorian. He is disciplined and methodical, in both his textbook research of the Holocaust and his painstaking gathering of information to blackmail Ian McKellan.

But the above details are just tools. Knowledge and brainpower end up becoming the servants of a cold, distant, and dark personality. But why? His homelife looks good, he plays sports, doesn't appear to be a social outcast and has solid friendships. What went wrong? What made him what he is?

Isn't that question scary?

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Fear of the Unknown

Author: (sora@interaccess.com) from Chicago, IL
14 July 2000

Prolific horror writer H.P. Lovecraft once wrote that (paraphrasing) the oldest emotion of mankind is fear, and no fear is stronger than fear of the unknown.

Those words seem to apply to all of Bryan Singer's films. In "Public Access", "The Usual Suspects", and "Apt Pupil" he creates singularly evil characters, let's them do terrible things, but doesn't offer a great deal of insight into their deeper nature.

It is a storytelling decision (which I believe is conscious, not sloppy or lazy writing) that seems to bother many critics and vieweres. Why does the stranger in "Public Access" choose to spin his web in the small town? What makes the young teen so fascinated by the Holocaust in "Apt Pupil"? Who or what the hell is Keyser Soze?

We never get to the bottom of it, but I think that what makes the characters so extraordinarily creepy. It's the same kind of eerie feeling when one contemplates the teenagers at Columbine, or serial killers like Jeffery Dahmer. What motivated them, at what point did these human beings deviate from the norm and become monsters?

In real life, I don't believe there is a single answer. We can blame television, bad parenting, drugs, the economy, the government, unpleasant bosses, etc. But it always comes up inadequate.

But I think that your average American hates this lack of clarity. People want to know what makes a bad guy. It gives a person relief to know that they aren't the monster, they they are the good guys. But the truth is, you never know, and never will. Maybe there is no reason, which is the scariest reason at all.

Apt Pupil offers a few short glimpses of what makes Brad Renfro's character tick. He appears to be extremely intelligent, signified by his good grades and graduating as a high school valedictorian. He is disciplined and methodical, in both his textbook research of the Holocaust and his painstaking gathering of information to blackmail Ian McKellan.

But the above details are just tools. Knowledge and brainpower end up becoming the servants of a cold, distant, and dark personality. But why? His homelife looks good, he plays sports, doesn't appear to be a social outcast and has solid friendships. What went wrong? What made him what he is?

Isn't that question scary?

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