Bryan Singer made a big splash in 1995 with his surprising,
critically-acclaimed, "The Usual Suspects," and after
three years of hiatus, he is back with his sophomore effort, "Apt
Pupil," based on a Stephen King novella, but I think his look has
quickly run out.
The film is about an intelligent, but cold-hearted 16-year-old senior,
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) who becomes interested in the Holocaust after
he studies it in school, and discovers that a Nazi from the
concentration camps in WWII is living in his own hometown under an alias
name. That man is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), whom Todd blackmails,
telling him that he will turn him into the police if he does not do as
he says. As Kurt begins to tell him horrific stories of killing the Jews
and his experiences in the camps, Todd begins to become obsessed with
it, starts to slack off in school, in which he was previously at the top
of his class, and begins to look more and more likely of being capable
of murder himself.
"Apt Pupil," has an intriguing story, and there are a few suspenseful
moments that pop up every once in a while, but it is at the screenplay
level that the film fails. There is no attempt at all to develop any of
the supporting characters, and so they all come off as being underused
and one-dimensional. Even Todd's parents, played by Bruce Davison and
Ann Dowd, only appear in one scene in the first half, and the film would
have you believe that Todd is practically living at Kurt's house. Todd's
friend (Joshua Jackson) is also a wasted character, as is his potential
girlfriend (Heather McComb). And so, because of this, what we have is
basically a two-character film, which would be okay if there hadn't been
so many open-ended subplots.
Renfro and McKellen are nothing short of spectacular in the film. Renfro
especially could not have been any better, and he is thoroughly
believable throughout, although his character is completely unlikable.
They both work well together, and the dialogue between them is often
One subplot that I did kind of like, even though it also was not
developed very well, concerns Todd's guidance counselor at school (David
Shwimmer), that at first does not seem to be of much importance to the
story until the climactic moments. Schwimmer usually plays the same
character ("Friends," "The Pallbearer"), but here he is completely
different, and shows that he is capable of actually having a lot of
range as an actor.
But with all things considered, "Apt Pupil" just isn't a very well
thought-out picture. The screenplay obviously should have went through a
few more drafts, and it also should have decided what type of genre it
wanted to fall into. Did it want to be a psychological drama, or a
horror movie (as some scenes would have you believe, including a
senseless murder in the last act)? Singer proved he was a talented
director with "The Usual Suspects," but "Apt Pupil" is a highly inferior
film in almost every way.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman