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IN SHORT: Manipulative and long.
Apt Pupil is the story of a brilliant high school student -- a high school senior at 16 -- and the results of his obsession with Nazi atrocities. When he discovers a war criminal living in his home community a bond is built between the boy and man, which will have consequences like you won't believe.
You won't believe 'em. But you will be occasionally manipulated into an edge of your seat frenzy in director Bryan Singer's followup to The Usual Suspects. A story of "how absolute evil corrupts absolutely," the story doesn't fly if the innocent victim is not absolutely innocent.
When we first meet Todd Bowen (Brad Renfro) he's deep into the Holocaust, which has just been studied in a school class. As the title credits roll, he's in the library reading old books and newspapers about WWII, heavy research. The year is 1984 -- more important to establish the age and look of the criminal than to set a cultural benchmark. On a bus ride home, Todd sees an old man who looks remarkably like a missing Nazi war criminal, present at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz. The man is called Arthur Denzer.
"Who is Arthur Denzer?" you might ask. He is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) and Todd has the ID nailed. Rather than doing the right thing by turning Dussander in, Todd blackmails the old man into telling tales of the concentration camps, and gas chambers therein, in great detail. It isn't that Todd has Nazi cravings. There isn't a sense that he is satisfying educational cravings, either. There is a real sense of mental dominance and submission going on in this "relationship." It's almost like sex without the physical sex and it is not pleasant.
Apt Pupil provides nothing to clue you in to the whys and wherefore of Todd's obsession, which is why Cranky's foot was doing a tap dance by the end of the first Act, waiting for the Stephen King nasties (the screenplay is based on a King novella) to kick in. Todd, the innocent, forces the old man to march around the house in a Gestapo uniform. Dussander, the villain, makes Todd do homework! Oh the horror.
I'm not making light of Nazi atrocities here. Those bastards killed off half my family in the War. You have to buy the relationship between the principals to make Apt Pupil work on anything more than a manipulative level. Cranky didn't buy enough of it. McKellen's Dussander is convincing enough, but Renfro's Todd is not. Without that solid foundation, in what is predominantly a two character play, Apt Pupil fails.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Apt Pupil, he would have paid . . .
Wait and rent. When you don't buy into the root of the story, all the tension in the world doesn't make the thing rise above manipulative. If you do buy in, you'll probably put it the way the ladies in front of me did, "long, but entertaining."
Fans of TV's Friends can watch David Schwimmer attempt to make his baby face look older by wearing a moustache. It just looks silly.
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