Books to Movies, Classics, The 500 Film Challenge, Thriller Shocker

#348: Apt Pupil

23 August 2011

I feel a bit guilty for not being able to keep up with my posts. It’s a great satisfaction to watch more than one film a day and talk about it for hours until you end up talking about another film, and so on. So I obliged myself in watching my sister’s latest flicks (well, not exactly the latest but newly owned films) which I can add up in my growing list of films I’ve seen this year. Today, I’ve rewarded myself with a Brian Singer classic Apt Pupil which stars the late Brad Renfro opposite Ian McKellen (Gandolf in the LOTR film adaptation). This film also stars Joshua Jackson and David Schwimmer.

Brad Renfro, who grew popularity in the 90’s in the Joel Schumacher film The Client plays the role of Todd Bowden, a young achieving high schooler who grew fond of Nazism after passing his paper about the holocaust. On his way home he realizes his elderly neighbor who aliases as Arthur Denker was a former Nazi Obersturmbannführer named Kurt Dussander who escaped from the war and is now considered a war fugitive. Todd knows the old man’s real name and his old profession and he blackmails him into telling him stories of the holocaust.

The more he spends time with Dussander, the more he seems to be detached with his studies, his own normal unconscious slate, even with his girlfriend. In turn he conceals his bad grades from his parents, turning to the man he blames to be causing his sudden failure. Dussander then uses the boy’s situation to sort of “control” him in a way, like pretending to be his grandfather during his parent-teacher counselling with guidance counselor Edward French (played by David Schwimmer). Due to this meeting with the guidance counselor, Todd is forced to stay frequently after school at Dussander’s house to do errands, study harder, pass his grades and do one last chore for him.

One evening Dussander, while dressed in his army uniform provided to him by Todd as a notorious gift, he is noticed by a hobo neighbor of his while picking up empty bottles of wine. They meet again the next evening on a bus ride home. The hobo thinking that he might trick the old man by giving him more wine and afterwards money insists on helping Dussander with his groceries. A sinister turn of events occur once Dussander permits the hobo into his house. He stabs the hobo in the back and drags the bleeding man into his basement up until he gets a minor heartattack. He kicks the bleeding hobo into his basement and rings up Todd.

He advises Todd that he needs him to do a chore for him and that he cannot do this as he is having a heartattack. Todd lies to his parents telling them that he needs to read a letter to Denker.

As soon as he arrives Denker’s home, he finds the old man having a hard time breathing as well as the dinning room in rumbles. Denker, still not finished with his evening plans asks what to do since he’s having a hard time breathing. Todd remains to be confused, as what every twelve year old boy in that case would feel (panic would never be the first reaction they would admit), but follows anyway since there seems to be nothing that he can do (except, I don’t know. go home. forget about the old man and let him die there..). He asks Denker what had happened. Dussander/Denker says he’s done it as an act of self-defense. As Todd screens the room, he finds the man lying in the basement, still with a knife stuck behind his back. We’re taken into a close shot between Todd and the lying man and the door. Which could possibly mean that there’s something fishy in this scene.. and voila! Denker shuts the door leaving Todd with the hobo. In this scene, we’re supposed to believe that this is where Todd unleashes his pristine evil, that sense of pleasure he’s been dreaming of, he’s been reading about, and he’s been thinking and finally will be able to live about. But for some reason the execution seems natural. Natural in a way that makes Todd a natural evil person, not something of an Apt pupil as the title serves.

Anyway, so the hobo dies of course. The cops arrive, as well as Todd’s parents. The teacher and his pupil have created a story for themselves wherein a guy had forced himself into the old man’s home while the pupil reads to him a letter, in German. Denker is forced to go to the hospital as well despite fear of compromising his identity in public. Todd cleans up the mess left at the scene and throw away every evidence of that night and of Dussander’s real identity. But trauma is as strong as a very nurtured memory. Apparently Dussander’s roommate in the hospital turns out to be an old detainee at the death camp in which Dussander was a high official with a very familiar face.

And so, Dussander chokes himself to death rather than sparing his life on a death sentence, Todd graduates high school in high honors, and Edward French’s undeveloped character gets a little breath of rehab from Character Development and plays a minor role in uncovering the real relationship between Dussander and Todd. Todd’s narcisistic evil character blackmails Mr. French by coming to terms with his ex-Guidance counselor’s sexuality.

Not bad for a suspense film. As for an adapted story from a book? Nah, I was never really a fan of these books – to – film genres, except for Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice though. I haven’t read the book version of this but I’m hoping it’s better.

If you are scared of Nazi inspired films, then this will be a huge shocker for you. But if you’re more interested in what Brad Renfro had to offer, then I recommend you watch this film. He was never, by any chance, overpowered by Ian McKellen’s unsurpassed talent. It’s script, I must say, would be convincing, just as long as you don’t have the book version in mind and for comparison.

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