Apt Pupil (1998) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
249 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
A Character Study Illustrating How Nazi's Were Able to Assert Their Power
Sean Rutledge16 April 1999
The only thing more frightening that having the Holocaust as part of our world's long history is to know that are human minds capable of creating and sustaining such an oppression. The real horror of Bryan Singer's adaptation of Stephen King's novella "Apt Pupil" lies in that we have this knowledge. We know that Adolf Hitler possessed the powers of immense manipulation and charisma. This has been so ingrained into our heads that I remember as a child knowing that Hitler was charismatic before I really knew what the term meant. This film is an exploration into the mind of a person who conceivably has many of the same manipulative characteristics. In the progression of the film, we slowly learn why.

Before any images actually come on screen, we hear the voice of someone asking if the Holocaust occurred as a result of economic or social cultural reasons. Or was it in fact, human nature? We then realize that the monologue is being given by a school teacher in a social studies class. The principle character, Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), a member of this class and is fascinated with studying the Holocaust. He spends much time in the library reading books and newspaper articles on the subject. Just as the opening credits finish, the camera zooms in slowly to the eyes of a concentration camp leader. This is the first of many extreme close-up shots of eyes. This distance motif is incredibly effective. The eyes are the window to a man's soul and the psyche that "Apt Pupil" explores.

One rainy night, while Todd is riding the bus, he sees a mysterious man, who he realizes is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellan), a Nazi war criminal and concentration camp leader who managed to escape from Germany years before. This is when we really begin to see Todd's disturbed mind. He is the kind of person who is so meticulous that he finds fourteen finger print matches of Dussander and builds a file that will be sent to the Israeli government if he doesn't agree to tell stories about the Holocaust that "they are too afraid to tell in school". It is now clear that Todd is not so fascinated with the Holocaust because he's racist (the film makes no reference to him being racist). He admires the power, dedication and will behind the driving force of the Holocaust. He mimics this power in his blackmailing of Dussander.

The scenes with Dussander explaining in explicit detail the acts that he performed in concentration camps are quite disturbing in themselves, but what is more disturbing is that Todd seems more detached than Kurt. Most of us would cringe in disgust if we were to sit and listen to the stories that Kurt tells. We get the impression that Todd is thrilled with the fact that he is able to control this man and make him relive his past.

In the film's most harrowing scene, Todd brings Kurt an officer's uniform, similar to what he would have worn during the War years, and makes him march. Up until this point, we are led to believe that perhaps Kurt has had some time to develop remorse over the years for his haneous acts of brutality, but when Todd begins commanding him, Kurt fades to the same state of mind of his Nazi persona from the past and we see the man capable of ordering concentration camp personnel to gas hundreds of Jews. The scene is truly chilling and stands out as the most memorable in the film.

"Apt Pupil" is occasionally slow, but never boring. I, for one could not take my eyes off the screen for a second. The power struggles between Todd and Kurt are always intense. The sequence of events leads up to a horrifying scene with Todd and his guidance counselor (David Schwimmer). Here, we learn of the lengths that Todd will take his manipulation. "You can't do that," the guidance counselor says. "You have no idea what I am capable of doing," replies Todd. This line of dialogue is very effective. We know from having seen the rest of the film that Todd is capable of quite a lot. While not as powerful or intense as Stephen King's novella, the film "Apt Pupil" gives us a creepy insight to the corruption of power and manipulation.

**** out of ****
104 out of 114 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Flawed but has great direction and good performances in an uneasy story
bob the moo13 August 2002
Young high school student Todd Bowden uncovers that an old man in his neighbourhood is really Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander under the name of Arthur Denker. Bowden offers not to turn Dussander in if he agrees to tell him what it was like to carry out the crimes he did during the war. However the relationship changes both Dussander and Bowden, bringing evil to the surface in both of them.

Having read the short story prior to the film being made I knew that this was going to be a difficult subject to bring to the screen. The film does a good job but makes many changes that will disappoint those who know the book. Treating the film as a separate entity it isn't bad but it happens too quickly and doesn't go deep enough. The plot is interesting but the depth Todd sinks to isn't convincing as half of it is forced on him and the other half he seems to embrace it. Dussander himself is well crafted but his descent into evil doesn't go far enough to be truly captivating. The ending is different from the book but I'm in two minds if it works better or not.

Brad Renfro is good but I can't help but compare him to the character in the book and see his short fallings. However he does manage to keep his changes semi-realistic without descending into being OTT or turning into a cartoon character. McKellen is perfect in the lead role and he manages to be larger than life. An actor of Koteas shouldn't have done such a minor role but Schwimmer gives a good performance that isn't his usual `Ross' thing again.

It's hard not to compare this to the book and beside that it pales slightly. As a film in it's own right it's OK but it doesn't quite convince and has an uneasy tone to it. Singer was always going to have a tough time following the amazing Suspects, but here he does pretty well. The direction is great and features plenty of great shots throughout the film.

Overall it is a flawed film because it doesn't go as far as it should nor does it manage to totally sell the characters to us. However it's worth a watch for great direction by Singer and a good lead by McKellen.
45 out of 50 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A psychological thriller
djtonyprep22 November 2004
Directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects and both X-Men features), Apt Pupil is a story of adolescent curiosity and evil intentions. Ian McKellen (X-Men) plays the role of an aged, former Nazi soldier living alone in a quiet town with Brad Renfro (Sleepers) as a young, high school teenager in the search of finding the truth about Nazi life in wartime Germany.

Adapted from the Stephen King novella of the same name, Apt Pupil is a psychological thriller with an Alfred Hitchcock-like presence, leaving quite a bit to the viewer's imagination. Much like a game of cards, the action moves back and forth between characters, each trying to take control of one another. While Kurt Dussander (McKellen) wants to keep his past in the past, Todd Bowden (Renfro) keeps probing (and sometimes threatening) to unleash the stories of the reign of Hitler and the torture of the Jews.

While this movie is much like other Stephen King-adapted novels in the sense that it doesn't always translate well to the big screen (with all of the little nuances that made King famous), the superb acting and directing makes Apt Pupil a worthwhile venture into the nature of mental wickedness. Both Singer's vision and McKellen's portrayal of Nazi war criminal bring excitement and intrigue to this movie making it a must-see.
44 out of 50 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Learning to be evil
Max_cinefilo895 February 2009
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.
19 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Innovative story!
vram2227 November 2007
I was surprised at how good this movie was. The plot line seemed intriguing, but I was worried that it would eventually fall into one of the standard "bad Nazi war criminal found" plots where you always know the ending. This story was much more inventive.

At its core, the movie is about a high school student who discovers that an old man living in his community is a former Nazi war commander. Instead of turning him in, he approaches the man with a very unusual deal. He'll leave the man alone if he can hear first-hand about all the horrible things that were done. This was the plan at least.

The movie needed intense performances - and it got them from McKellen and Renfro. Both are incredibly captivating and scary in their own ways. Coupled with a suspenseful, unpredictable Stephen King story, the movie succeeds well.

If you're a Stephen King fan or simply enjoy thrillers, this movie is worth checking out.
18 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Original, Intriguing
ReelCheese19 November 2006
A teenage boy befriends an elderly man. During countless discussions over many a night, they form a special friendship that manages to bridge their considerable age gap. It would sound like a sweet character study if the old man wasn't a Nazi war criminal and the teen wasn't a Holocaust-obsessed recluse blackmailing his new pal for all the gory details.

APT PUPIL scores the highest marks for originality. Nothing ever quite like this has been done before, and it's all quite intriguing. In the beginning, we come close to feeling sorry for the old man despite his past misdeeds. Here is he living out his golden years in peace and seclusion when all of a sudden a pushy teenager threatens to blow his cover. As the tale progresses, we see that the elder is just as conniving as the boy, threatening simply to expose their friendship, forever linking the young man with unimaginable notoriety. What starts out as a bizarre acquaintance escalates into a duel of manipulation.

It's not surprising that APT PUPIL is based on a novella by Stephen King. The film bears many of the hallmarks of King's works. And while it's never actually scary, it is thrilling at a psychological level that King reaches best. It's not perfect, but with the skilled direction of Bryan Singer and solid performances by leads Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen, it generally accomplishes what it sets out to do.

You don't have to be a horror person or a teenager at a late night party to enjoy APT PUPIL. The film has a unique appeal beyond what its target audience may have been. If you missed it when it was released in 1998 (as many did, based on its limited commercial success), it's certainly worth a look.
19 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Evil Feeding Evil
Daelock26 October 2004
Apt Pupil is a movie of symbolism, it is a movie of metamorphosis, it is not a movie to be brushed off, taken lightly, nor is it to be watched if you want anything even remotely uplifting. It is a thoroughly depressing movie about corruption and the very root of evil. You'll find no plot summary here because you can scroll up slightly and find one. I can tell you Ian McKellen is one of the finest actors in the world and even solidifies that unlikely people like Brad Renfro and David Schwimmer can be incredible actors in their own rights. The movie poses several questions, almost none of which it answers and indeed might not have answers. It is, at it's core, about evil feeding into evil. The boy's evil reawakens the old man's evil, the old man's evil stokes the boy's evil and it continues to crescendo throughout coming to an incredible climax. A fascinating and thoroughly challenging movie.
30 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A brilliantly concocted mindgame between a Nazi, a boy, and you.
eo527 June 1999
This film is not for the light of heart or of mind. The story is about a boy who learns that a Nazi war criminal is living right in his metaphoric backyard. Obsessed with learning more than just what they teach you in school, the boy sets off on a journey to discover "How did it feel?" The writing, based on a novella by Stephen King, takes you through the minds of both the boy and the Nazi. It's a battle of wits with real people being the pawns. This movie will mess with your mind. Do not watch it if you aren't up to the challenge. My hat goes off to Brandon Boyce and Bryan Singer, the writer and director, respectively, who seem to have interwoven the story and the audience. Never have I witnessed such an excellent display of psychological warfare.
33 out of 44 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
If you read the novella, don't bother
Wizard-819 April 1999
I read the novella in high school, and I found it scary, disturbing, and a real grabber - I couldn't put it down until I was done.

As for the movie version, I'm sorry to say it doesn't work. While there have been much worse Stephen King adaptations, this is still pretty weak. Someone else here said it's been sugarcoated, and I agree. It's been watered down so much, that character's actions that were easy to understand in the book become "Whaa - why did he do that?" here. The ending is the worst part - though I can understand why they may not have been able to recreate the novella's original ending onscreen, couldn't they have thought of a new ending that was better than the one they used here?

The acting is good, one of the few things that works here.

In short: if you have read the novella, do NOT watch this movie - you'll be horrified in a way the filmmakers didn't intend. The positive comments here seem to come from people who haven't read the novella. I still wouldn't recommend this movie even for non-readers, but if you must watch this movie, I strongly urge you to read the novella after you've seen the movie. It'll really open your eyes (in more ways than one), and you'll see how much better the movie could have been.
57 out of 82 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Interesting tale of cat and mouse based on the idea that someone can become obsessed with a certain text.
johnnyboyz26 April 2008
The underlying theme Apt Pupil maintains throughout is attention to texts and attention to texts that can inspire and influence but for all the wrong reasons. Apt Pupil does not have a set up; it jumps right into its narrative from the very beginning as close to perfect student Todd Bowden (Renfro) sits there having gone through a lecture on the infamous Holocaust that took place during the 1930s and 40s in Central and Eastern Europe. Todd looks disturbed and yet intrigued at the same time; the opening credits roll after the teacher rubs out 'Jews' written on the chalk board, with the credits doubling up as a montage as Todd goes deeper and deeper into the history of the Holocaust and picks up on lots of information.

From here, Todd has had his mind polluted with a text he has done every attempt to read up on and is now in a different sort of mindset but since we did not know him before the film started, it is his psyche that has been attributed to him. Similarly to the American couple who went on a spree after seeing Badlands; similarly to the French couple who shot and robbed a liquor store after seeing Natural Born Killers and similarly to the hoodlums in Britain who dressed up and beat tramps after seeing A Clockwork Orange, media texts and texts in general can inspire and influence. Todd's story is a study of this and it become doubly dangerous when he realises local neighbour Kurt Dussander (McKellan) is an ex-Nazi in hiding.

From this intriguing set up comes a film that unfolds at a satisfying pace, delivers shocks and the odd surprise whilst maintaining a healthy amount of suspense. The film spends most of its first third informing us that the Holocaust was a 'bad thing' with its trailing off of stories that Kurt delivers to Todd and its dream sequences that Todd must endure. But at the same time, this only further emphasises Todd's fascination and displays how vulnerable he really is. There are two scenes in which Todd hallucinates about the Holocaust; one of which is when he is peering into a window at a dying Jew who cries out for help but Todd awakes in a cold sweat – he didn't enjoy it. The second of which takes place in the shower when he imagines he is a Jew himself. But he snaps out of it and pants in relief it's over.

These reactions display fear and anxiety toward such visions but it is not long before he is treating friends like dirt, participating in animal cruelty and wanting to witness first hand a Nazi drill from the real thing. There are two symmetrical scenes during which both Todd and Kurt partake in animal cruelty emphasising that Todd is perhaps entering the mindset of a Nazi whilst one who has already been there and been one also tries his hand at animal cruelty – disturbingly fitting how it involved an oven. But at this point, Todd has already bordered on the insane since his readings of the subject and the stories of the ex-Nazi have deterred him from the straight and narrow; it echoes the scene in Taxi Driver when Travis pretends to 'shoot' the porn stars on the screen in the cinema – he has seen the filth and the bare bones of the subject first hand and is now building up a fascination; albeit and 'anti' fascination as opposed to Todd's fascination which makes him want to hurt, upset and maim.

And so as the film progresses, so does the intrigue and the deception. One of the films more memorable scenes involves a homeless man who for one reason or another gets in on the blackmail and believes he'll be permitted to stay at Kurt's house given a twist that occurs. Kurt may have other ideas and the scene in which he strokes the man's bald head (probably echoing the way he did for the Jews following their head shaving) is tense and unnerving. But the student/pupil relationship takes a bizarre route and Todd buys Kurt a uniform, demanding to see him in it and demanding a performance – I don't think there is much of a homo-erotic 'gaze' that follows but there is certainly a lot more 'I'll look out for you, you look out for me' emphasis and everything gets a little more 'touchy-feely' if you know what I mean.

Despite, in my opinion, one of the biggest mis-castings in a film from last decade; David Schwimmer turns up with a silly looking moustache and some tacky looking glasses and plays a school counsellor. His presence adds another ingredient to the boiling pot but just when the game looks up in a forgettable scene, Todd is quite literally saved by the bell. Then there are the lingering close ups of the handshakes, the creepy smile and those eyes behind those glasses – is there something we should know? Apt Pupil is engaging and good fun for what it is but there are some sloppy scenes and some incidental occurrences but what good there is, is either nerve jangling, tense or unpredictable.
10 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Self-Righteous Commentary
pinkfloyd7010 December 2001
If anyone has ever read the novella by Steven King, you would know that this movie came right from the toilet. It lacked not only good acting but also the psychological state of the characters. The characters lacked depth, which in turn created trite and meaningless interactions. I could have found more emotions in a comic book character. Mr. Renfro needs to stick to hickville roles (i.e. The Client), no offense Brad!!
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
I love it
david_blakemore26 January 2004
I know that there are some people who don't like this film for whatever reason, all I can say is that I think it's a superb film, and I don't think Bryan Singer has made a better then this, (This includes Usual suspets and X-men).

I thing I love anout this film is that it gets under your skin, which not every film can do, and the story as well. Ok it is unlikely that you will reconise someone from a 40 year old photo. It has to be said though that the story is excellent, and this is one of my favourite films.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Not a Very Good Effort
gbheron21 May 2002
With a few notable non-scary exceptions ("Stand By Me" and "The Shawshank Redemption"), Stephen King hasn't had much luck having his written work translated to the silver (or small) screen. And as one of today's most prolific and popular novelists, much of his work has been adapted. Not that I've seen all of it, far from it. But most of what I've seen has disappointed. Add to the list of disappoints, "Apt Pupil".

The horror in this film is not supernatural, but psychological. It chronicles the improbable story of a young teen who discovers that an elderly neighbor is an ex-Nazi death camp commander. Instead of dropping a dime on the old butcher, he blackmails him! And not for money, but for his insight, insight into the nature of evil. And this from a 14-year old? The story didn't wash.

The movie is created well, with decent acting, but the direction seemed to wander. At times I felt that the movie was taking a creepy, dark turn to plumb the depths of human depravity, then it would skip off into something more akin to a murder mystery. Sort of schizophrenic, as if the director wasn't quite sure of the type of movie he was making. I wouldn't recommend this movie.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
bomb the Nazis
TriNitroToluene19 January 2001
Stephen King is a genius... I repeat, Stephen King is a genius (that was just for the record, I have to pay tribute to the King before I have the right to continue this commentary). Moving on, I have to say two words that made this movie great, only two words to describe the main reason for success in this production, the first is "Ian" the second is "McKellen". You put them together and you get the name of the BEST actor for this part. He wasn't just brilliant in this role, he literally WAS the role, you couldn't see him as an actor in the movie, he was just too good for that. You see him as the role. What more can you ask for from a actor? The story is extremely original and slick. (which are rare combinations considering that almost everything has been done by this time). Whoever did the casting on this movie deserves a kiss on the cheek! They choose the best people for their suitable roles. Even these new actors and actresses fit into their roles great. From start to end you will be interested in this movie. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you see it. To all you out there who think that just because it's written by Stephen King it's going to be horror I remind you of this: Lean on me, The Green Mile, and Shawshank Redemption were all written by Stephen King.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Be afraid, be very afraid.
Philip Van der Veken18 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Apparently this movie was based upon a novel from Stephen King which I haven't read yet, so don't expect any comparing between the book and the movie from my side. What I can do for you is to explain how I feel about this movie and I must say that it left me with a double feeling. The acting and the story were OK, most of the time at least, but the entire concept of the movie didn't convince me once. It even disturbed me, but not in the way that you probably expect.

The movie gives us the story of a 16 year old boy, Todd Bowden, who learns more about the Holocaust at school. He gets fascinated by it and starts reading and learning more and more about it. And then he makes a big discovery. He sees a man on the bus who appears to be Kurt Dussander, a Nazi war criminal, who now lives in his neighborhood under the assumed name Arthur Denker. Instead of turning the man over to the authorities he makes a deal with Denker. If the former Nazi tells him what life in the concentration camps was like, he won't tell anybody what Denker's real identity is. What follows is a strange cat and mouse game between Denker and Bowden that will end with a vicious murder...

The subject, talking about an old man who appears to be a former Nazi who now lives in America and pretends to be a sweet old man, isn't bad. Even the idea that he has lived an undisturbed life since he arrived, but now his true identity is discovered by a young student is OK. But it is everything after that that bothers me. For instance, why do people in Hollywood always think in stereotypes when talking about former Nazi's? I mean, sure what they did was horrible and it is almost impossible for us to understand why so many Germans knew about it all and didn't do anything, but many of those former Nazi's and soldiers now live a normal life, even though some of them still meet each other and seem to be proud of what they did during the war. (This isn't a thing that I make up, in Belgium for instance the 'Sint-Maartens-fonds' (you could translate it as the Saint-Martins-fund), still organizes the Belgian SS-soldiers who fought in the USSR against the Bolsjewism and I once saw a meeting of former SS and Wehrmacht troops in Austria, only a couple of years ago). But, opposite to what Hollywood tries to make us believe, these people aren't pure evil. I mean, they aren't torturing people during these meetings or creating plans to take over power and to chase the Jews...

This movie does exactly that. It shows how Dussander changes into a Nazi again as soon as he puts on the uniform and is ordered to march. And that's only the start. Immediately after, he tries to gas and fry a cat in his oven (I guess the cat has to stand for the hundreds of Jews which Dussander killed personally), and eventually even kills a man...

Another problem that I have with the movie is that it shows how Todd starts to study Nazism and the Holocaust and eventually changes into a bad guy himself. If that's true than be very afraid when you meet me, because I read a lot of books about WWII as well and yes I even read books about the Nazi's. Never have I felt the need to kill someone or something, but if you have to believe this movie, than I might turn into a disturbed and hating person myself...

If you think that this movie is realistic, than I guess you should try to find out more about WWII yourself and especially about the Nazi's, because I guess it's fear of the unknown, that makes believe that this is a very realistic movie. Oh well, as a character study this movie isn't bad. Just don't take it too serious like I did, than you won't be very disappointed by it. I give it a 5.5/10.
8 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Unbelievable Lesson.
Python Hyena16 September 2015
Warning: 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
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Singer's forgotten film
rob-911-1629831 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
'The Usual Suspects' is one of my favorite films, and 'Apt Pupil' is the closest that Bryan Singer has ever come to recreating the atmosphere and intensity of his prior work. 'Pupil' is a very flawed film, but still an entertaining and insightful one. I haven't read the Stephen King novella which it is based upon for quite some time, so I don't recall all of the differences between the two works.

Todd Bowden is a seemingly above average high school student. In 1984, he is a sixteen year old high school senior who is also a star pitcher for his school's baseball team. Basically he is the kind of kid that every parent wishes they had, except that he has a hidden dark side. This dark side manifests itself in a morbid fascination with the horrific crimes against humanity that were committed by the third Reich. An uncredited Christopher McQuarrie opens the film with a fantastically written narration, asking whether the Nazis actions were the result of economic, cultural, or social influences. He then posits that it may simply have been human nature. On the bus home one night, Todd recognizes an old man named Kurt Dussander as one of the famous war criminals he has been obsessively studying. The look of recognition in actor Brad Renfro's eye as the camera pans in is subtly and fantastically depicted. Bowden goes to great lengths to ensure that he has the right man before he confronts him (to include analyzing fingerprints).

Todd has no interest in turning the Dussander in; instead he blackmails him into giving detailed recollections of his grisly past. The movie slowly becomes a chess game between the two, and soon they are blackmailing each other. As Dussander warns, Todd is playing with fire.

John Ottman's opening score was disappointing, but the rest of the music and his editing were top notch. The film's primary flaw is that ten minutes or so could have been edited out of the middle portion of the film. Elias Koteas is a great actor, but his scenes go on for far too long, to the point of undermining the suspense. Tighter editing could have made this a much more popular film in my opinion, because the performances are stunning. Most of the film consists of Ian McKellan and Brad Renfro's characters in Dussander's house, and to their credit they're always compelling.

Two scenes stand out for me. One is the dinner table scene, where Dussander easily wins over Todd's entire family with effortless charm. The second is where Todd forces him to wear an SS officer's uniform procured from a costumer (Dussander wryly notes that he's been promoted when he sees the rank tabs). His gradual descent back into his former self is chilling and McKellan plays it perfectly.

Brandon Boyce's script and Bryan Singer's direction are dead on, except as I already mentioned more editing was needed in the middle of the film. The last half hour was masterfully constructed, and although the ending departs from the novella I preferred it. I think it had a lot more substance and was more unnerving than King's sudden, shocker ending. Does the film rely on a two amazing coincidences (Todd recognizing Dussander, and the old man sharing a hospital room with Dussander)? You bet. Does it work? I think so.

Overall it's a good film with some interesting suppositions about the nature of evil, and it's a shame that it faded into obscurity.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Scariest movie I've ever seen
Sandcooler27 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This one is vaguely forgotten by now but had the potential to be a great cult film. The short story this was based on in one of my all-time favourites, so I appreciated that Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro remained faithful to the source material, the characters remain as they were. Dussander/Denker is an unsympathetic, bitter old man who gets his only joy from murdering hobos, and he's still the nice guy. Todd Bowden is evil, and does a very good job of that. Surprisingly the screenplay is an improvement over King's original work. I mean his style is always a bit dry to me but usually the screenwriters mess things up further, as you can see in most of the other thousand King adaptations. But here there are these minor changes to the plot that work a lot better. Especially the fact that Todd gets away with everything this time is more fitting, though it didn't really make me that cheerful.One of the least lackluster of all Stephen King movies
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Summer Of Corruption:The Apt Pupil.
morrison-dylan-fan16 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
After having read the novel Different Seasons by Stephen King,(which also had the stories for Stand by me and Shawshank)I have to say that i found Apt Pupil the most enjoyable and interesting in the book.I feel the film is very good,but with a few flaws.The plot:A local boy Todd Boweden(Brad"The Jacket"Renfro),who is doing his high-school exams finds out that a man who lives on his block(Kurt Dussander)is a Nazi war criminal.Who is living in America under the name Arther Denker.Instead of turning Dussander(Ian"The X-Men,Lord of the Rings,The Da Vinci Code"McKellen) into the police.Todd decides to go round to Dussanders house and talk to him!.Because Todd has been studying World War II history at school,and he wants to find out "what they don't talk about in library books".He does this by getting Dussander to tell him how he felt being in voled in The Holocaust.Things get even darker,when Dussander kills someone.And Todd has to cover up the murder for him. View on the film:

The cast.First of all i have to say that for Brad Renfro being 16 at the time,he gives a really great performance as Tood Bowden,who you feel turn from a nice "innceent" kid.Into someone who will do anything to get his way.Ian McKellen gives another great performance as Dussander,who you can believe actually did those horrific things.The main down side is the supporting cast,who try to make there roles different then most "TV soaps",but (for me) they sadly come off as 2D-charitrics. The Screenplay.written by Brandon Boyce who due to the subject matter the film/short story is about.So the main thing you get is a very strong outline of the story.the only problem is that this makes the relationships and people in the fill not as realistic as you would want them to be.Thought i have to say that i feel the ending was a better idea then in the short story (Todd dies).The Direction:Director Bryan Singer,you can see start some of the main themas that he carried on with The X-Men films.(Young people having to decide "what side" they want to be on as they enter there adult life.)Singer does a very good job with the dark Nazi imagery (something he built upon with the first X-Men film.)While he does a good job at trying to show whats behind white picket fences. Final view on the film: An above-average film based on a great short story,with another great performance by McKellen.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Atmospheric Psychological Thriller
psp77714 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
FEISTY HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, Todd Bowden (BRAD RENFRO), becomes fascinated by the theme of his history lesson about Nazi activities against the Jews, so much so he 'develops' (avoiding spoilers here) an intense relationship with 'Mr Denker' (IAN MCKELLEN) - in an attempt to give atmosphere to his imaginings. The plot quickly thickens as Todd and 'Mr Denker' trade in blackmail. The power constantly toggles as each another's life goes through twists and turns. This thread of co-dependency deepens. Screen Writer Brandon Boyce handles Stephen King's work with a touch of brilliance, always atmospheric, with constant surprises, with an underlying subliminal theme of consequence. Just as a stalemate in the blackmail scenario develops another twist enters into the plot; with Apt Pupil you get several stories within one plot, nicely tied in at the end. Just as you think its coming to a conclusion, a major catalyst to this taut thriller enters when the 'drunk' is shown travelling on the bus... more events follow and the plot truly thickens. Whilst some may disagree, there are many suggestive and intentional homoerotic scenes in this film, some well documented. Other aspects focus quite heavily on sado-masochistic tangents; depending on your level of experience and (or) imagination. The film has many violent scenes, justified by an excellent evolving storyline often with a fast pace. Throughout you are alerted to much dialogue that you know will be (and is) used for 'post-echoing' in your mind to the lead up of the final consequences. A thought provoking psychological thriller. Absorbing and intelligent, slowly peeling away the layers allowing you to get a real feel for the disturbed and twisted mind that lies behind seemingly innocent facades.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Interesting, but a little too over the top to be taken seriously...
Chromium_529 March 2005
"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.
10 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
rpzowie31 March 2004
I sincerely hope Imdb is merely falsely reporting a rumor that Stephen King sold the film rights to Apt Pupil for $1, because Apt Pupil is one of the worst screen adaptations of a King novel. It ranks up there with Children of the Corn and, perhaps ironically worst of all, King's "Maximum Overdrive."

Apt Pupil is one of the most chilling King works I've ever read with only Children of the Corn being scarier. It's a cat-and-mouse story of a cocky, smart American kid who discovers that man who lives near him is actually a fugitive NAZI--one of the evil high-ranking officers that has thwarted the authorities for decades. But instead of doing the obvious right thing and turning him in, the boy engages in a deadly quid-pro-quo game of blackmail: he tells "Arthur Denker"--real name Kurt Dussander--to tell him everything that is too explicit for the war books and magazines.

The novel has a very dark ending, which you'd expect when a person makes a critically terrible decision and then tries endlessly to cover it up. This movie almost completely sanitizes it. Further, Brad Renfro was a horrible miscast as Todd Bowden. He acts nothing like the Bowden in the book. The pacing for this film was all wrong and never allows any of the characters to sufficiently develop. Only Ian McKellan and the well-intentioned efforts of David Schwimmer save this film from being a total skunk.
11 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
not bad, but might have had more potential, somehow
MisterWhiplash20 July 2006
Apt Pupil is a film I might possibly consider watching again, if I didn't have much to do during the day and had absolutely nothing else to watch (including TV). It's one of those transitional films for a director- in this case Bryan Singer- where from one film that's a success to another there's a bridge in the middle that kind of floats and fizzles before getting a closer look. But it's possible too, as I remember it, that part of my problem initially with the film wasn't as much with Singer's work as a director as it was with (some of) the writing. Stephen King's story has a lot of potential, and its idea could have different directions in the scope of the tragedy and aftermath-style horror that comes with a Nazi survivor in everyday America. There could even be a Hitchcok element to it as well, with a man who has evil stored somewhere inside and now in a very average, American town (and, indeed, what evil thoughts might lie in such average-town inhabitants) And some of that potential is tapped, primarily in the very tense, underplayed exchanges between Brad Renfro and (of course) Ian McKellan.

In fact, I would most likely watch the film again more than any other reason for McKellan, who is good as usual (if not great), and tries his best to elevate the complexities of such a character like Kurt Dussander for the audience. But, again, the problem goes back to the writing, as in the third act the film goes completely off into more of a horror movie mode leaving some of the more serious and interesting questions left to muck around in the scenes where Dussander goes off the deep end. And, some of the horror brought to the film (and I would guesstimate most of it is from King's original story) is sub-par itself. King has written some great stories dealing with the horrors of humanity in the 'real' world, but Apt Pupil isn't one of them. With all of the effort put in by Renfro as the wayward, typically curious (and in this case un-hinged) teen, McKellan as the understanding and interesting but later truly monstrous figure, and Singer's competent direction, it's a shame then that the material itself wasn't totally taken into account. Worth a viewing once, at least for King die-hards who may find some extra enjoyment from seeing at least one unforgettable scene (where McKellan puts back on the uniform and gets into the 'mood' of the old-times), but it's far from being one of the better Nazi war criminal movies.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Very good dark movie.
Thomas Ferreira22 July 2000
Warning: 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.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
It is about time someone produced a good movie.
zac-1411 July 1999
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.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews