October 24, 2011

Reviews in Retrograde: Apt Pupil

Critical Outcast isn't my first attempt at a website, I had a few stutter steps in the late 1990's and early 2000's. These attempts generated a whole bunch of poorly written, often very short and spoilerific reviews. I recently stumbled upon them in my archives and thought you may be interested in seeing some of these early attempts at writing. They are as they were then, I make no apologies for how bad or how short they are. Feel free to have at them with reckless abandon! I present to you: Reviews in Retrograde.

Neighborhood boy Todd Bowden discovers that an old man living on his block named Arthur Denker is nazi war criminal. Bowden confronts Denker and offers him a deal: Bowden will not go to the authorities if Denker tells him stories of the concentration camps in WWII. Denker agrees and Bowden starts visiting him regularly. The more stories Bowden hears, the more it affects his personality.

Bryan Singer has crafted a frightening film here, by reliving our past are we doomed to repeat it? Singer has taken a short story from Stephen King and fleshed it out into a character study of horrifying proportions. Featuring a riveting performance by Ian McKellan, we are introduced to the horrors of what human nature is capable of.

The story is about a boy who becomes fascinated with the events of the Holocaust. He discovers that an old man living in his neighborhood was a war criminal who had been the head commander of numerous death camps during World War II. This ingenious kid meticulously gathers black mail material against the man, in order to coerce him into telling, in graphic detail, the stories he has of the war. The boy is not so much interested in the rascist aspect as he is with how the human person can be capable of committing the atrocities. As he feels his black mail control grow over the man, he exerts his power by forcing the man to dress in a Nazi uniform and march for him. It is possibly the most powerful scene in the film, as Mckellan's character slips back to his mindset during the war and in essence, loses control to the Nazi in him. At this same point the boy realizes his power is not absolute. From here the psychological power play between man and boy grows as we see first hand the horrors that the human mind can be capable of when put to the test.

The movie is powerful and unconvincing at the same time. McKellan draws you in and hypnotizes you as he winds his way through the stories and his power play. Renfro, on the other hand is less convincing. He tends to overextend and over dramatize the character, in this case he should have been a bit more subtle. The acting was just too over the top. Schwimmer is good in his small role as the school guidance counselor.

While not up to the standards of The Usual Suspects, Singer has crafted a fine thriller, one that makes you think about our nature and the horrors of our past, and what must be done to overcome them in the future.

A fine thriller about our nature and the horrors of our past.

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