Terrified to sit through another movie exposing gory, WWII atrocities, I coerced David Clayton (one of Asheville’s pithiest film buffs) into reviewing Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil. And while I got a good night’s sleep, it seems that David was underwhelmed by the film’s alleged nightmarish content. But we thank David, anyway, for his chivalrous intentions, and we offer his scholarly take on the Pupil:
“When you play with fire, you can get burned,” warns the seemingly mild-mannered old coot (McKellen), who is the current object of a dark obsession for 16-year-old Todd Bowden (Renfro). But Todd is not to be dissuaded, believing he has identified the old man (whom he spotted on a city bus) as Kurt Dussander, former Nazi SS officer-in-hiding who butchered thousands of Jews in WWII. And so Todd (whose fascination with the Holocaust grew out of a school project on the subject) presses on relentlessly — confronting the old man (who calls himself Arthur) with photographs and fingerprints, which the teenager threatens to turn over to the Israeli authorities unless Arthur reveals the true story of what happened in Nazi Germany. It seems that the details of the Holocaust captivate Todd in the same way that horror films might engage other teenage boys. Out of this fascination, an unlikely (and uncomfortable) bond develops between the two, at first with Todd holding all the cards. But when Arthur turns the tables by uncovering something from Todd’s past, the power shifts back … and then forth between the two adversaries, like a tennis match. Thus begins Apt Pupil — a psychological game of blackmail and terrorism, where the most manipulative player wins. With an emphasis more upon style and shock than content, director Singer maneuvers Stephen King’s novella toward disturbing conclusions that are simply unbelievable, and unworthy of the talent involved in this picture. In the wake of far superior dramas (Schindler’s List) and documentaries (Shoah), Apt Pupil soft-pedals the true horrors of the Nazis for the standard “Evil ways have a tendency to resurface”-type plot. And while the film’s ad campaign boasts, “If you don’t believe in the existence of evil, you have a lot to learn,” perhaps that adage might have been true if first-time screenwriter Brandon Boyce had done his homework and offered us a less superficial, more eerie tale about what evil men can do.