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Apt Pupil (1998)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Genres:
Drama, Psychological Drama, Psychological Thriller
Director:
Bryan Singer Bryan Singer
Starring:
Brad Renfro Brad Renfro
Ian McKellen Ian McKellen
Joshua Jackson Joshua Jackson
Mickey Cottrell Mickey Cottrell
Michael Reid MacKay Michael Reid MacKay

6.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: May 13, 2006
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) is an ace student, and he's done so well in school that he's been bumped up a couple of grades to become a senior at the age of sixteen. He's particularly interested in history, and when the Holocaust subject comes up, he finds himself perversely immersed in the stories and the details. One night, as he's heading home via the city bus, he notices an old man riding alongside him that looks a lot like one of the Nazi's from his history books. He does some investigating and finds out that indeed, this man is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) - a Nazi war criminal who was never caught. Todd pays a visit to the old man's house and tells him all about his discoveries, and eventually, Todd blackmails him into telling him all of the sordid, gruesome details of what the Nazi's did to the Jews and what he himself had personally done. Thanks to the fact that Dussander is a wanted man and could spend the rest of his life in a Jerusalem prison (a very bad thing for former Nazi's), he has no choice but to comply with this boy's wishes... however, as things move along, we find out that Todd isn't the only one capable of blackmail and extortion.

Here we have another movie based on Stephen King's work, this time taking on the novella of the same name that was published in the book Different Seasons - a book that also featured the stories that would go on to become Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. Whereas the novella was quite good and featured some mental imagery that would make those hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, the movie adaptation isn't quite as good; actually, the movie is just average. I think that it's safe to say that we all know how good the aforementioned movies were, and as is usually the case, the written stories were much better. Now then, suggesting that the three are on par with one other in terms of the movie productions is laughable, but when you read the three stories back-to-back in the book, that is indeed a true statement.

There are two things, in my eyes, that hurts the movie. The first problem is that due to the limitations of having a running time of average length, the characters did not get the development that they needed to make the story work. I hate to keep comparing this movie to the original source material, but things just seem to be so rushed in this film that it loses a lot of the believability and charm. Whereas the book was gripping and would stick with you for quite some time after you finished up the last couple of pages, the film adaptation is highly forgettable. I did enjoy the final twist that was considerably changed from the book's ending, but otherwise, this story really should have been left in the book.

The second problem that I had with this film adaptation was just that: it was a film adaptation, and as such, it had to conform to Hollywood's standards of what the audience would want to see and how much they could push that proverbial line. There are several key pieces of the story that were either omitted or cut entirely from the movie, and there's also a subtle (yet noticeable) difference in the attitudes of the characters. While missing out on those scenes and events won't affect those of you who haven't read the book, it still seems to be just another Hollywood film that has the same predictable clichés and speeches that we've seen a thousand times over.

As a standalone movie, Apt Pupil is decent yet forgettable. You probably won't want your rental money back after watching it, but I highly doubt that the events you witness will stick with you much longer than the post-movie bathroom visit. However, when you compare it to the novella, it's just downright shameful. As I mentioned, that's usually the case in book-to-film adaptations... but when you see how well Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption were translated and how the third adaptation is usually found in the two-for-$10 bin, it's a wee bit depressing. 4/10.
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bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added 05/17/2006, 02:26 AM
This is one film I absolutely fucking love! I remember seeing it when I was younger and thinking it was the best thing since sliced break. Not to mention, the short story is one of King's best, in my opinion. Ian McKellen is amazing here, and a young Brad Renfro pulls his own nicely. One of the best surprises is a brief, but well played, appearance by David Schwimmer. That scene with McKellen in the suit...wow. 9/10.
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