Apt Pupil

on October 23, 1998 by Lisa Osborne
A powerful and disturbing movie, "Apt Pupil" (adapted from a novella by Stephen King) delivers a brilliant performance from Ian McKellan as former Nazi SS officer Kurt Dussander who now lives in an alcoholic haze in the U.S. under the assumed name of Arthur Denker. Dussander's secret is safe for more than 40 years until 16-year-old Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) sees his picture in a book on the Holocaust and later recognizes him on the bus. Instead of exposing him, Bowden uses his knowledge of Dussander's past to blackmail him into sharing graphic details of the death campts. His morbid curiosity is quite sickening. Only a child would be sufficiently naive as to think he could blackmail a mass murderer and master manipulator; the rules are soon rewritten in Dussander's favor.
McKellen endows Dussander with a complex, multi-dimensional personality which allows him to transform almost instantaneously from charismatic old man into merciless killer. This is a character capable of profound cruelty. Quick changes of tempo work well to maintain the tension. And flashbacks of camp victims seen by Bowden, apparently through Dussander's eyes, are unsettling.
Renfro does a great job of playing the A-student and dutiful son who metamorphoses into Dussander's acolyte and a menacing young adult. "Apt Pupil" is a quietly violent movie; it's not for sensitive viewers. Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Bruce Davison and David Schwimmer. Directed and produced by Bryan Singer. Written by Brandon Boyce. A TriStar release. Drama. Rated R for scenes of strong violence, language and brief sexuality. Running time: 112 min
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