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Apt Pupil (1998)
Rated R

Starring: Brad Renfro, Ian McKellen, and Joshua Jackson

Rating:
*1/2
out of
*****

Apt 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.

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 of them.

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 the Nazis.

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.

Trivia: The 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)

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