A teenager blackmails his elderly neighbor after
discovering that he is an escaped Nazi war criminal.
Apt Pupil (1998)
Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Brandon Boyce
Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Bruce Davison,
David Schwimmer, Ann Dowd, Elias Koteas, Heather McComb,
Joe Morton, Jan Triska, Michael Byrne
Based on the novella by Stephen King
Apt Pupil is a complicated film. On one hand, it's not a very faithful adaptation of Stephen King's dramatic novella and leaves out a number of important elements. On the other, the film works as its own entity thanks to the brilliant performance of Ian McKellen as former Nazi Kurt Dussander. It's like two different storytellers telling the same story. Regardless, the novella was better. Still, the film is definitely worth a watch if only to compare.
The big thing that I didn't like about Apt Pupil was that it seemed to trivialize the Holocaust, at least in the first half. The character of Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) was not the disturbed sociopath that he was in the novella. Instead, he was a confused kid who thought that the Nazis were kinda cool and wanted to know more. The dream sequences where Todd would fantasize about gas chambers were in really poor taste and didn't fit the tone of the film at all. The saving grace of the film is Ian McKellen, who disappeared into the role of Kurt Dussander, a formidable and terrifying villain, even if his relationship with Todd Bowden was incredibly forced and unbelievable.
I wish that the film had stuck with the book, particularly with the ending. The film's ending seemed lazy and unsatisfying, while the book ended with quite a literal bang. Apt Pupil suffers from a lack of developed characters and a bit of a rushed pace, as well as an oversimplification of the horrors of war. These problems keep the film from becoming memorable, but don't hold it back entirely. It's still a decent film.