6.7/10
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Apt Pupil (1998)

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A boy blackmails his neighbor after suspecting him to be a Nazi war criminal.

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(novel), (screenplay)
6 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... Todd Bowden
... Kurt Dussander
... Joey
... Sociology Teacher
... Nightmare Victim
... Monica Bowden
... Richard Bowden
... Victor Bowden
... Agnes Bowden
David Cooley ... Gym Teacher
Blake Anthony Tibbetts ... Teammate
... Becky Trask
Katherine Malone ... Student
Grace Sinden ... Secretary
... Edward French
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Storyline

Neighborhood boy Todd Bowden (Renfro) discovers that an old man living on his block named Arthur Denker (Mackellan) is 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 WWII. Denker agrees and Bowden starts visiting him regularly. The more stories Bowden hears, the more it affects his personality. Written by Casey Ward <ward@citizen.infi.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

If you don't believe in the existence of evil, you've got a lot to learn.

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Thriller

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for scenes of strong violence, language and brief sexuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

|

Language:

|

Release Date:

23 October 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El aprendiz  »

Filming Locations:

 »

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Box Office

Budget:

$14,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$3,583,151, 25 October 1998, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$8,838,938, 3 January 1999
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(8 channels)|

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Editor and Composer John Ottman did two cameos in the film, but both were cut. The first was reading the lines of the off-screen teacher, but his voicing of lines was substituted at the last minute by Christopher McQuarrie. He also had a cameo as the music teacher, conducting the high-school band in the graduation scene, but this was eliminated from the final cut. See more »

Goofs

Kurt Dussander, upon receiving his uniform given by Bowden, commented on how he received a "promotion". The new rank was that of a field officer; a Lieutenant Colonel (Americanized version; German version is Oberstleutnant SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer). The SS insignia was always on the right collar, the other on the left. This occurs just after 30 minutes into the movie. About 52 minutes into the movie, the collar position of the insignia changes collars; the "SS" is now on the left collar, the other on the right. This mistake escapes many of us due to the fact we are seeing him looking at himself in a mirror, and so it seems to make sense. The truth is, of course, despite the use of a mirror, right is still right, and left is still left. See more »

Quotes

Kurt Dussander: What do you want? Tell me.
Todd Bowden: I want to hear about it.
Kurt Dussander: Hear about what?
Todd Bowden: The stories. Everything.
Kurt Dussander: What everything?
Todd Bowden: Everything they're afraid to show us in school. You were there. You did those things. No one can tell it better than you can.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Way of the Gun (2000) See more »

Soundtracks

Tony's Analysis
Written by Van Alexander
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User Reviews

 
Learning to be evil
5 February 2009 | by See all my reviews

Stephen King's Apt Pupil, which is part of the novella collection Different Seasons (alongside the stories that inspired The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me), is a valid example of how you don't need things to be openly supernatural to have a good scary tale: a "human" incarnation of pure evil will do just as fine, and few images are more effective than those of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during WWII.

Okay, minor correction: WWII has virtually nothing to do with this story, given it takes place in 1984. There is a Nazi involved, though: his name is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), but he's been living quite peacefully in your average American neighborhood under the name Arthur Denker. However, a young boy named Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro from the Grisham-inspired The Client) manages to uncover the old man's real identity thanks to some thorough research and tells him about the discovery. The unexpected thing is, Todd doesn't want to report Dussander to the police. What he really wants is to learn everything - and he repeatedly emphasizes the word "everything" - about the former Nazi's work under Hitler's regime. Soon enough, the perverse bond between the two starts affecting the boy's grades and behavior, and Dussander isn't unaffected either: somewhere deep inside lies the old Nazi, and that part of his personality would like to come out and play.

The film's screenplay sticks quite faithfully to the basic idea of King's story and reproduces some of the most famous scenes verbatim (except for one moment of animal cruelty, which had to be softened), although a few subplots are excised, presumably for the sake of length and pace. The downside of that is an occasional lack of detail, especially when it comes to the development of Renfro's character. Director Bryan Singer, who obviously found himself in an uncomfortable position to begin with, having to live up to the success of The Usual Suspects, makes up for this flaw by constructing a genuinely tense and unnerving atmosphere, adding to the moral ambiguity by highlighting the homosexual subtext already present in the book (when Todd tells Dussander to f*ck himself, the latter replies: "My dear boy, can't you see? We're f*cking each other.").

Acting-wise, the limelight is inevitably placed on the leading duo, even if the supporting cast, which includes fine character actors like Bruce Davison and Elias Koteas, is quite strong (with the exception of David "Ross" Schwimmer, who isn't entirely at ease in a serious role). Renfro's performance is solid and captivating enough, but like his character he is completely overshadowed by the superb, unsettling McKellen, who inhabits the role of Dussander with his usual Shakespearean grandeur. Case in point: the unforgettable moment when the old man is forced to wear an old SS uniform Todd got his hands on. McKellen carries out the assignment with the dignity of a great tragic thespian, nailing the scene as one of the essential samples of his film career.

Apt Pupil distances itself from The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me in that it isn't as accomplished, most notably when it comes to the inevitable book/film comparison. Then again, it tells a much darker story, which asks the audience to root for a psychotic teenager and an aging Nazi. Flawed it may be, but it certainly is interesting (not to mention carried by an astounding McKellen). It is indeed a different season.


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