Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Movie Gem: Apt Pupil (1998)


Based  on the Stephen King novella, Apt Pupil tells the story of a teenage boy (Brad Renfro) who uncovers an elderly neighbor’s (Ian McKellen) Nazi past. The boy soon uses this information against the elderly man to control him into telling macabre stories about how the Nazi’s exterminated Jews in the holocaust. Their relationship soon progress to a battle for mental superiority.


This movie is significant to me because of it’s young lead, Brad Renfro, who passed prematurely in January 2008 from a heroin overdose (his grandmother died two weeks later from natural causes). Renfro’s portrayal of Todd Bowden is quiet and understated, reaching a boiling point only at the most appropriate moments. The young actor’s natural talent is clearly visible in this film, especially in the scenes where he has no dialogue. 

Alongside Renfro is Sir Ian McKellen in one of his best work.  His role of the Kurt Dussander is chilling at best. McKellen who was in his 50’s at the time, found it amusing that he was offered the role of a 74 year old man. In one scene, the boy orders Dussander to wear a Nazi uniform from a costume shop. What follows is acting by McKellen that almost made me piss my pants. In this uniform, I couldn’t help but think back to McKellen’s turn as James Whale in Gods and Monsters. In Gods and Monsters, Whale is a WWI veteran haunted by the horrors of war, while as Dussander, he is not the victim but the executioner.

The rapport between this young and veteran actor was an immense pleasure to watch.  It reminded me of a Harrold Pinter play, where the two characters battle wits over who shall blackmail who into control. Both of them inject large doses of charm and malice. I couldn’t help but be charmed and scared at the same time.

Also notable is director Bryan Singer, who would later direct the X-Men movies as well Superman Returns.  He explored the Nazi theme again in 2008, with Tom Cruise in Valkyrie.

Apt_Pupil_CastLook for FRIEND’s David Schwimmer hiding behind a ‘stache!

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