Pupil is a hard movie to review. Not because I don't know how I feel
about it, but because I don't know why it was made or the audience it
was aiming for. If it was intended, as some suggest, to show how the Nazis
gained influence over those who did their bidding, I suggest that a viewing
of a 1981 TV movie, entitled The Wave, which also featured Bruce Davison,
is in order.
Starring: Brad Renfro, Ian McKellen, and
The movie tells the story of Todd Bowen (Brad Renfro), a stellar high
school student, who has just finished learning about the Holocaust in
school. While riding a public bus home from class, he spies a man who
looks a lot like an older version of Kurt Dussander, one of the Nazi war
criminals he's been learning about. Armed with fingerprints he's taken
from the old man's mailbox and other evidence of the man's identity, Todd
blackmails Dussander (Ian McKellen) into telling his stories of the war
and what he did to the Jewish prisoners.
So far, so good. It's an interesting idea and not that bad of a set-up.
Unfortunately, the movie begins to deteriorate shortly thereafter, with
Todd beginning to idolize Dussander. When Todd's grades begin to slip,
Dussander does Todd a formulaic favor which will return to haunt both
McKellan is an actor who's clearly above this type of material, but he's
in fine form. Brad Renfro doesn't provide much in the way of identifiable
character. In fact, we learn so little about who he was before he met
Dussander that we really don't see that much of a change in his behavior.
Sure, he begins to act like he doesn't value human (or animal) life anymore,
but he could have been like that before he met Dussander. When a guidance
counselor (David Schwimmer) informs him that he's in the running to graduate
first in his class, it was a startling revelation to me. I figured he
was just an average kid with an odd fascination with World War II and
All in all, Apt
Pupil is a mistake from beginning to end. It offers no
moral and comes to no conclusions about why it was made or for whom it
is intended to entertain. Pass on this one.
first attempt to film this story, in 1987, ran over budget and was
stopped. It starred Rick Schroeder and Nicol Williamson, and was directed
by Alan Bridges. (Source: The
Internet Movie Database)