Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Brandon Boyce, based on the novella by Stephen King
Starring Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Elias Koteas, David Schwimmer, Bruce Davison
My Advice: Wait and Rent It.
Todd Bowden (Renfro) is the All-American kid. He's got it all: caring parents, great grades, the letter jacket, valedictorian, and a nice girl who wants to jump his bones. But somehow that's not enough. After studying the Holocaust in class, he wants to know more--and finds just the person to tell him. That person is Arthur Denker (McKellen), formerly known as Kurt Dussander, Nazi war criminal extraordinaire. Todd makes him an offer he can't refuse: I'll keep your big secret if you tell me all the little secrets underneath it.
Based on the chilling novella of the same name from King's collection, Different Seasons, this film succeeds in delivering just that: chills. It's something that takes a bit of skill to deliver and not just bad gore in its place. Part of what makes this possible is Singer's direction and McKellen's work as the retired Nazi. McKellen is always in fine form and this is no exception to that rule. Even Schwimmer is good (although his cheesy moustache elicited sniggers from the audience on his first appearance) in his role as the straight-laced guidance counselor. However, the problems begin quickly.
First, the film has to make me believe that the kid who has it all is secretly a sadist just waiting to spring out. Given the fact that we see Renfro only two minutes it seems before he's got McKellen in his power, then suddenly he's drawing and seeing swastikas everywhere--it doesn't fly. Renfro's performance is in fact rather uncaptivating, it's only when he's yelling or looking like he's doing something other than "This is my line and I say it here," that you are interested in him at all. A very weak ending as well leads me to place the blame for this at Boyce's feet, and commend Singer for making the best of it. Regardless, it's sad that for a story with such potential, it was never allowed to materialize fully on the big screen. Rent it for McKellen's performance.