Apt Pupil is based on a novella by Stephen King, one of the few King stories that does not have much to do with the supernatural, but is nonetheless gripping. I am not generally a big fan of King's non-supernatural stories; before I went to see the film, it was not clear whether Apt Pupil would translate well on the big screen, particularly given the thinness of basic plot. Fortunately, the movie does not disappoint in this regard.
Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) is an high school student who, after being fascinated by Nazi history, finds an honest-to-goodness Nazi General, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), living in his town. Todd confronts Dussander, who is living under the assumed name of Arthur Denker, and blackmails him into revealing the gory details of the atrocities the Nazi committed during the war. In his quest for knowledge, Todd ignores his schoolwork and lets his mid-term grades slip, thus risking exposure of his after-school activities. At this point, Dussander suddenly turns the tables by pretending to be Todd's grandfather and making a deal with his guidance counselor: Todd must get straight As in the finals in exchange for his poor mid-term grades being wiped off of his record. Dussander then uses the skills he acquired running a Nazi concentration camp and drives Todd to pull off the near-impossible.
The transition from blackmailer to "apt pupil" is done excellently, very much in the Stephen King style. In the end, when Todd is confronted by his guidance counselor, he demonstrates why he truly deserves the title in more ways than one; for not only has Todd learnt the art of torture and discipline, but also how to manipulate people around him to suit his own agenda.
The film is mostly a character study of the two main protagonists. Renfro is decent as Bowden. McKellen is superb as the evil/fatigued Dussander. The movie has the feel of a Stephen King book and the plot twists are handled excellently. One of the better movies of the fall: it will scare you without using any blood and gore!