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Apt Pupil
Genre Thriller
Year: 1998
 
Review:
Apt Pupil comes from the pages of the self-titled book by the master of horror Stephen King. The story is more involved than some sort of unidentified evil. The evil Stephen King writes about, is the evil within all of us.

World War II was laced with atrocities that will probably never be lived down. The Nazi concentration camps were a few degrees short of Hell on earth, and anyone that survived them would probably say the same. Unspeakable acts of genocide were committed on a large scale, and the pain and suffering from the Holocaust still echoes more than 60 years later.

Apt Pupil is a story that examines how power corrupts, and how darkness can overtake our hearts given the right circumstances. Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), is a bright young student, with a passion for history. His acute mind and sharp instincts align a man he sees on a bus with an image from his history book. The man is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), and Todd identifies him and suspects him to be a Nazi war criminal. Dussander denies the allegations, and tolerates Todd’s increasing aggravations. Todd thinks he has his man, and realises that the position of power allows him to command Dussander to do his bidding. Dussander is forced to tell Bowden about the atrocities of the death camps in detail. Todd listens to his stories with morbid fascination, and their little secret becomes secondary to a twisted friendship. Kurt and Todd continue to trade secrecy for revelation until the two are locked in a dead heat. Dussander is playing Bowden at his own game, and the two are forced to co-operate with one another. But how long will it be, before one of them falters, and let’s the cat out of the bag?

Tense moments, gripping scenes and intense dialogue characterise Apt Pupil. Todd’s (tod - death in German) plan seems to backfire, and Kurt uses his tact to draw Todd into the same situation. Bryan Singer (X-Men, The Usual Suspects) delivers the goods in an excellent thriller with some great performances and a strong Stephen King story. McKellen is superb as Dussander, and really becomes the man from his accent to his mannerisms. Renfro does Todd’s character justice as an angry, rebellious, manipulative and gifted young man. The film hinges on the tension between the two, and there is a consistent uneasiness in the air from the very start of the relationship.

Singer manages to capture the suspense, thrill and drama of the occasion, and doesn’t lose the grip at any point. David Schwimmer plays the critical role of the level-headed guidance counsellor Edward French.

Apt Pupil is intense and after all of the panic, shifts in power and drama - one is relieved to see the credits. Strong themes, real-situational drama, great performances, sensitive directing and a strong plot elevate Apt Pupil into the top echelon of the thriller genre. If you have any interest in World War II history, and like thrillers then get set for a film with vengeful power. It has several awards for McKellen and Renfro’s performances as Dussander and Bowden.

The bottom line: Gripping.

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