After seeing The Boys from Brazil (pretty cool movie by the way) we got acquainted with Apt Pupil, based on a novella written by Stephen King also taking from a starting point the discovery of a former Nazi commander hidden in an average suburb in the US by a teenager.
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), a very popular and successful kid in local high school in South California, attracted by Nazi theories based on the purity of race, discovers that Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen), a quiet and isolated old man, is in fact a Nazi fugitive war criminal named Kurt Dussander who used to torture and kill Jewish people in different extermination camps during WWII. Not only his research is based on written information but also dares to analyze his fingerprints by stealing a cup from his garbage can.
Surprisingly the kid starts blackmailing and humiliating the old man, threatening him to inform authorities if he doesn’t just tell stories about life in the camps, executions…Therefore desperate Dussander accepts Todd to come to his place on a daily basis for explaining and detailing every issue he wants to know about, and even submits to the humiliation of wearing a fake Nazi uniform and marching as in his old times.
Stories become the kid’s obsession, who even starts suffering hallucinations, and of course, that affect his performance, both in studies and sports, and his behavior, up to a point, he intercepts a letter to his parents advising on poor marks in the exams, risking to graduate and the possibility to access to a good university.
At this point, and thanks to Dussander’s quick intervention impersonating Todd’s grandfather in front of high school counselor Ed French (David Schwimmer), the relationship between the kid and the old man becomes even, so both could report each other, and they split ways returning to their former lives.
Nevertheless, Dussander, is forced to let a strange homo bum (Elias Koteas), seeking for cash and food in exchange for sex, who’s been stalking him for a while in his place,and is not able to inhibit his killing instinct however, he suffers a heart stroke, not having anyone else but Todd to turn to for help, who will finish with what the Nazi had started, again bounding to each other to hide what happened from authorities, parents and society.
They will be able to cheat everybody but in the most ridiculous way Dussander’s secret past eventually sees the public light…
The story of Apt Pupil is really cool, I would like to read the novella though to check the way the movie was adapted because but for very remarkable exceptions Stephen King’s stuff does never endure a transformation into the screen without suffering.
It is a fact that not much especial effect work is required for the story deals more with the psychological aspect and how characters are affected by Dussander’s past and develop a need for inflicting pain on the weak although I don’t think this change in behaviour or the remembrance of past are not dealt in depth enough,if so the idea of how the account of brutal events in the past can still make an effect on somebody could have been strengthened and Apt Pupil could have become a success.
Unfortunately changes are not very well reflected, the fact that Todd is changing is only shown in very few scenes, the relationship between him and Kurt is neither focused on, and I could keep on naming.
I think the “problem” of this movie is to be under Hollywood influence, with established or fashionable actors, the director of amazing Usual Suspects (and later of X-Men, Superman Returns among others) and the support of a powerful film company. This movie was designed to be a box-office hit, to be consumed by as much audience as possible, forcing to smooth the deep content of the story in the interest of being attactive to everyone, just offering the hallucinations effectiveness as the darkest side of the story, and to be honest, they don’t seem too relevant or well explained either and almost fall into the ridiculous in order to justify what we’re watching has the stamp by the king of terror.
Thus as in many other cases, the idea is simply awesome but not well developed, and again it comes to my mind, and guess to others’, that we would had done it better.