Apt Pupil

Apt Pupil


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

When a 16-year-old boy blackmails a senior citizen to tell him details of mass murder, you wonder what on earth is going on. The motivation at the centre of Bryan Singer's follow up to his scintilating debut, The Usual Suspects, is not so much dubious as blurred.

High school swot and baseball star, Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), takes his study of the Holocaust seriously. He believes, for instance, that an old codger on the bus is Nazi war criminal, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellan). He goes to the trouble of dusting his garbage can for finger prints - where would a kid learn how to do that? Stephen King wrote the novella. Guess he cheated a bit.

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Brandon Boyce's script is concerned with the relationship between these two, how knowledge of atrocities affects the psychological growth of an enquiring young mind. Todd's question, "How did you feel?", is barbed. What did Dussander do when women and children took more than an hour to suffocate due to a faulty gas supply? Watch and wait? Dussander lives alone with a cat in a large house. He drinks a lot and smokes all the time. His teeth are Elizabethan, his demeanour unwelcoming. He watches TV sitcoms and laughs like a drain.

Todd's obsessive interest is more than academic. There is an emotional affiliation of some kind, which remains unexplained. He comes from a stable, affectionate, middle-class family. Why this fascination with evil? Renfro is unable to provide an answer. He plays Todd bland, the model of teenage inscrutability, which leaves the screen open for McKellan. As an actor, he tended to overcompensate with theatrical tricks in early cinematic outings, as if unwilling to adapt to the new medium. All that has changed. After a stunning Richard III and an award-winning Gods And Monsters comes a performance of such depth and brilliance, it must be his best yet.

Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2007
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A boy blackmails a neighbour, who he believes is a Nazi war criminal.
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Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Brandon Boyce, based on the novel by Stephen King

Starring: Brad Renfro, Ian McKellen, Joshua Jackson, Mickey Cottrell, Michael Reid MacKay, Ann Dowd, Bruce Davison, James Karen, Marjorie Lovett, David Cooley, Blake Anthony Tibbetts

Year: 1998

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA, Canada, France


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