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Review: Apt Pupil (1998)

Apt Pupil (1998)

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Premise: A high school student (Brad Renfro) discovers his neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal. Rather than turn the old man into the police, he blackmails the fugitive into telling him all the details of his crimes against humanity. 

What Works: Apt Pupil is a very good suburban gothic story. The star of the show is Ian McKellen as Mr. Dussander, a German immigrant living under a false name. McKellen captures the humanity of this old man and then slowly reveals the evil underneath, which is brought out by his interaction with the high school student. Brad Renfro is extremely believable as Todd, a young man who discovers the evil next door. Renfro is able to rise to McKellen’s performance and the script gives the character some very interesting development as he learns from Dussander both about the intoxicating nature of power and how to pull off lies. The relationship between the two is fascinating to watch as Todd coaxes the stories out of Dussander and in turn unleashes the destructiveness that lay dormant inside of the old man since the end of the war. This portion of the film is excellently paced with Todd’s relationships and schoolwork taking a plunge and Dussander turning the tables on the boy. The games of manipulation increase between the teacher and the student, intertwining their fates together and poisoning Todd’s humanity until he emerges as a junior version of Dussander.

What Doesn’t: The only scenes that threaten to derail the film involve David Schwimmer as a high school guidance counselor. There is nothing wrong with the scenes in and of themselves, but Schwimmer still has the aura of his character on Friends hanging around him and it snaps the viewer out of the film. In time, as the memory of Friends fades, this may diminish.

DVD extras: Featurette.

Bottom Line: Apt Pupil is one of Bryan Singer’s early films but it remains one of his best. It’s also one of McKellen’s best performances and the film gives a hint of the talent Renfro possessed, an actor taken from us before he achieved his full potential.

Episode: #175 (January 25, 2012)