I'm reminded of the 'Sesame Street' song that goes something like, "Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?... The people that you meet each day." Our neighborhoods are full of strange and interesting people, but I'm sure not many of us live by Nazi war criminals on the run who have escaped being prosecuted for the crimes they committed. That's just the situation Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) finds himself in, when he discovers that a high ranking Nazi official is living near him.
Todd has a sickening fascination with the Nazi regime which I guess blossomed because they were learning about it in school. The movie begins as Todd arrives at the door of his neighbor, Mr. Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen). At first they're sort of cordial with each other, but when Dussander tells Todd to get lost, Todd reveals that he knows the man's secret identity. Dussander – if that is his real name – has been hiding out in America since the end of the war. He's been hoping to escape prosecution by Israel for the war crimes he committed.
Todd recites the prison camps Dussander oversaw and tells him that he has indisputable proof that he's the Nazi that is still being hunted decades later. He's even got numerous fingerprint matches, don't even ask me how he got that, and now he wants to know what Dussander knows.
Without any other real reason other than morbid curiosity, Todd blackmails Dussander into telling him the grotesque stories from the war. Todd sits and listens as Dussander recounts the atrocities that he was apart of. There never seems to be a hint of regret, but what's even more puzzling is that Todd seems to get off on it. There's one extremely weird scene where Todd orders Dussander to put on a Nazi uniform and march around the kitchen. If I didn't know any better I would say that Todd was getting some sort of sickly perverted sexual arousal from it. Why? I have no idea. As a matter of fact I'm not sure why most of the things that happen in 'Apt Pupil' actually happen.
Director Brian Singer's adaption of the Stephen King novella is all over the place when it comes to narrative. We never really come to understand these characters. There's something about Todd that isn't right, but his metamorphosis into a monster is cut short because Singer spends so much time at the beginning with Dussander recounting his past.
'Apt Pupil' had promise, but it seems to derail rather shortly after it begins. Much of it is due to Renfro's dreadful overacting and Singer's inability to focus on any one character enough for us to relate with them.
This could have been a decent cat-and-mouse thriller, but the movie gets lost and never recovers. The third act feels like seven or eight different endings haphazardly patched together like a ratty old quilt. It's one of those movies where you think it's ended, but then there's another spot of exposition. Then you think it's ended again, but still more exposition. It just doesn't end. It drags on and on hoping that we enjoy the apparent cathartic nature of the final scenes, but instead we find ourselves saying, "Finally, it's over."
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment has released 'Apt Pupil' on Blu-ray housed on a BD-25 Blu-ray Disc. The case indicates a region A only coding, but B and C haven't been tested.
Image Entertainment has produced another solid looking transfer with their 1080p presentation of 'Apt Pupil'. The movie is dreary and dark by its very nature, but that doesn't stop it from looking strong in HD.
I was surprised at how clean the picture turned out to be. I was expecting at least a few scratches and blips to pop up along the way, but when I think back on it I can't recall one moment where I was overly distracted by errant noise. Even with such a clean looking picture it appears that egregious DNR has been eschewed, helping the movie look more natural and less waxy. Fine detail in faces is a noticeable jump from the DVD release. From Ian McKellen's craggy wrinkles to Brad Renfro's boyish looks fine detail really comes out a winner here. Edge enhancement isn't noticeable either, although edges are usually clearly defined.
Blacks do lean a bit more to the flat side and shadows could do with a bit more depth. While most of the movie is painted in a melancholy color palette, there are moments where color shines, especially the scenes where Todd is at school. Contrast is a bit dim and could be healthier. Overall sharpness is a little hazy, but that's due to the heavy filmic grain that's been kept intact. I found this to be a good looking transfer for a catalogue film.
'Apt Pupil' features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that does a solid job conveying the intensity of some of the movie's more tense scenes. Dialogue is thoughtfully placed and perfectly intelligible for the entire film. Surround channels get a hefty workout supplying nuanced sounds like birds and rain, juxtaposed with creepy ambient noises that happen during Todd's nightmarish dreams about the concentration camps.
LFE kicks in during the suspenseful scenes, but seems a tad under developed. I also got a bit sick of the movie's score, which builds and builds with screeching violins attempting to jump out and scare you. It's a pretty generic score for a thriller, and seems to be prioritized a little on the strong side. There are a few moments where the jump scare scenes are overpowering to the rest of the mix.
I've never been all that impressed with 'Apt Pupil'. It's a movie with potential, but it goes off the rails as it never quite captures the character of Todd. The movie also suffers from a lethargic climax that never truly conveys the terror that went on during the movie. The worst offense with Singer's follow-up to 'The Usual Suspects' is that we never really come to know Todd or Mr. Dussander. By the time the ending finally arrives we realize that we never really ended up caring for them in the first place.
Fans will be happy with the solid audio and video presentations, but the special features are severely lacking. Still, 'Apt Pupil' may be worth a look under the right conditions.