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APT PUPIL

SYNOPSIS:
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), an academically successful American High School student becomes interested in the Holocaust and his further studies take him to a library where he pores over articles, journals, cuttings – and photos of the era. One day on the bus he recognises an old man as an SS officer, and after further research, confronts Kurt Dussander (Iam McKellan) with an unusual request: to be told all about it, in return for Todd’s silence. It makes for a clandestine, volatile relationship which leads Todd down a hellish path, and Kurt into deadly danger.

"Apt Pupil is a remarkable film; it peers into the dark soul of man with an unusual perspective and extracts some fascinating observations. Whether you agree with the filmmaker’s conclusions about evil being contagious is another matter. But he presents a good argument. (Actually, the argument might begin by asking whether the young man had a natural touch of evil or was it implanted…) Intellectually stimulating and often emotionally engaging, Apt Pupil is engrossing by its premise and by its execution; by the performances and by the filmmaking style. Of course, what engages us above all is the incredibly intimate view of two individuals who, in different cultures, different generations and from different backgrounds, peel off to show the barbed edge of the human condition in such an unusual way. McKellen creates a compelling, complicated and confounding character, while Renfro matches him with surprising finesse of performance. The soundtrack adds enormously to the emotional hit, making good use of excerpts from Tristan and Isolde as well as some powerful original work from John Ottman. The film also boasts three very legitimate endings in sequence; as I say, it’s remarkable. It’s best enjoyed when you feel like a heavy red, a big steak and generally a Wagner of night."
Andrew L. Urban

"The current theory, in Hollywood and elsewhere, is that ‘shocking’ content (child abuse, murder, Nazism) needs to be matched with an equally ‘shocking’ style (shrill, crass, in-your-face). At least, that’s one possible explanation for the existence of Apt Pupil, a hokey thriller which bluntly examines, and exploits, the pornographic allure of the Holocaust. Bryan Singer, who gained some arthouse cred with his overrated The Usual Suspects, here emerges as a sincere schlock director doing his best to give this project some class, with ‘haunting’ violin music and slow dissolves between items of Nazi memorabilia. Tightly focused on its central plot dynamic, the film – despite its widescreen format – feels very enclosed: the central location is Dussander’s murky kitchen, where dim tawny light flows like the brandy Dussander is always drinking, and the characters tend to be framed in close-up, gazing off into a vague darkness that fills the other half of the screen. Singer’s old-fashioned B-movie style makes for semi-camp melodrama, but also insists, weirdly, on the not-so-hidden homoerotic subtext. One memorable pin-up shot has teenage hunk Brad Renfro sprawled on his bed in his underwear, gazing up at the hovering camera as we head off into a crazed fantasy flashback. At times it’s hard to say whether deviant sexuality is meant as a metaphor for evil or vice versa, given the film’s fixation on Renfro’s muscular body, pale fine skin, and rosebud lips (held vacuously open, like an actress playing a bimbo). The overall mix of prurience and pseudo-profundity is effectively nauseating. In a sense, considering the subject matter, you could say this is appropriate. But it’s not exactly art (or entertainment)."
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

APT PUPIL (MA 15+)
(US)

CAST: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Bruce Davison, David Schwimmer

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

PRODUCER: Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy III, Bryan Singer

SCRIPT: Brandon Boyce

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Sigel

EDITOR: John Ottman

MUSIC: John Ottman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Richard Hoover

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 8, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE August 18, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: ColTriStar







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