Neighborhood boy Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) discovers that an old man living on his block named Arthur Denker (Sir Ian Mackellan) is a Nazi war criminal. Bowden confronts Denker and offers him a deal: Bowden will not go to the authorities if Denker tells him stories of the concentration camps in World War II. Denker agrees and Bowden starts visiting him regularly. The more stories Bowden hears, the more it affects his personality.Written by
Casey Ward <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Very interesting film with two fine central performances
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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