Stars: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro
High School student Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) becomes interested in the Holocaust and more specifically, Nazism. He recognizes an old man in his town as war criminal Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) and takes to blackmailing him, threatening exposure unless Dussander, who now goes by the name of Arthur Denker, tells him everything there is to know about the atrocities for which he was convicted. What Todd really wants to know is what it felt like to do the things Dussander did.
In the beginning, Todd’s interest seems genuine and thoughtful but his obsession grows into a sinister game and pretty soon he’s got Dussander dressing up in a Nazi uniform and goose-stepping about the house. More and more, we see Dussander’s puppet like marching stir up old forgotten feelings in the old man and the episode becomes a harrowing testament to how much Dussander relished his job. Frightened, Todd orders him to stop and even Dussander realizes he has crossed the line: “Be careful …you play with fire”, he tells the boy.
By dredging up these old memories, Dussander instills new emotions in Todd and they are not very kindly ones. The boy becomes hostile, volatile, uncommunicative, his grades suffer and there’s even an episode of cruelty to animals. He blames Dussander for his failing grades as a result of the nightmares from the old man’s stories rather than taking the responsibility for his own actions.
Dussander actually helps the kid regain his grades and for a time, we are led to believe that this relationship may end well. But, Dussander is still the malevolent soul he’s always been; he takes actions to protect himself from Todd should the kid decide to spill the beans later on.
The early part of the film is slow going and repetitious in setting up Todd’s obsession. The writer and director have been careful not to introduce too many details of the atrocities for fear of grossing everyone out. Interest picks up half way in when Dussander confronts a stranger and Todd must cover for him. What we see in the film is a good character study with McKellen doing a frightfully splendid job as the former Nazi and Renfro aptly portraying innocence gone awry. Todd, you see, becomes forever tainted by his new-found knowledge. McKellen is thoroughly capable of making you like Dussander at times, then hate him, and sometimes even feel sorry for him. I think McKellen should have been nominated for the Academy Award for this film over “Gods and Monsters”, although he was terrific in that too. See both movies, and you’ll see a remarkable actor at work.
The screenplay was written from the novella by Stephen King and you’ll see some classic King moments. Overall,
Lotta says a good, thoughtful film for the adults; might be too hard on the eye for even teens unless you got a brainy one at home.