Apt Pupil | Chicago Reader

Apt Pupil

Bryan Singer's intentions in this deeply misguided film, his second feature, may have been good. Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, this tells the tale of an overachieving high schooler named Todd (Brad Renfro) who becomes fascinated with the Holocaust and then discovers a former Nazi camp guard named Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen) living secretly in his neighborhood. Rather than turn Denker over to authorities, as he knows he should, Todd forces him to dress up in an old SS uniform and recount, in grisly detail, all the horrors of the camps. As a thriller the film is never more than half convincing, since the superb McKellen massively outclasses Renfro. Moreover, the motivation of Renfro's character is never explored; at a couple of points the film seems to be going in the direction of exploring latent anti-Semitism, but it veers away. Most offensive is the use of Holocaust imagery as plot points. When Denker gets annoyed by a stray cat, for example, he takes him straight to the oven; Singer dwells on the gas flames so long no one in the audience could miss the point.

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