Hearts in Atlantis (PG-13)
By all counts, Hearts in Atlantis should be a winner. It stars Anthony Hopkins, an actor I'd be happy to watch sleep for two hours. It was directed by Scott Hicks, who catapulted to Hollywood fame with Shine. It's the cinematic retelling of a Stephen King non-horror tale (think Green Mile), is amply budgeted, lovingly shot and features the fascinatingly pale and slightly off-kilter actress Hope Davis (Next Stop Wonderland).
But Hearts in Atlantis disappoints on a number of counts. It is mistakenly told as a flashback, a dramatic structure that works only in the most innovative hands. In this case, the flashback device is plodding and painfully slow, adding little if anything to the core story.
David Morse is Robert Garfield, a 40-something artist who, when he learns of the death of one of his best hometown buddies, is drawn back to the memory of one childhood summer. Garfield goes to the funeral and visits the now-boarded up apartment house where he and his mother lived when he was 11 years old. He fondly remembers the adventures of himself, young Bobby (Anton Yelchin), his first love Carol (Mika Boorem) and the mysterious tenant who appeared that summer, Ted (Hopkins).
Bobby longs for a bike and needs to save money, so he takes a job reading newspapers to Ted. He quickly realizes that Ted has the ability to see deep inside people and that what Ted sees in Bobby is his best self, something his self-centered single mother (Davis) fails to see. Ted and Bobby become trusted friends. When Ted asks Bobby to keep an eye out for what he calls "low men," dangerous types who for some unknown reason are after Ted, we understand that his stay will be limited and that he, and possibly Bobby, are in danger.
We are interested in Ted's gift but are not given enough solid material to keep us interested. For the most part, when Ted is "seeing" things, he zones out and stares, unblinking, out the window. But Hopkins' interaction with young actor Yelchin is something to behold. In the scenes where the two draw together in private conversation, it's as if there is no acting going on, just great storytelling on Hopkins' part, and the kind of active listening that only an open-hearted child can do well. Yelchin is a wide-eyed wunderkind who I imagine we'll be seeing more of at the movies.
And the scenes between Bobby and Carol are equally endearing. Their first kiss, on a ferris wheel, high above a shiny carnival, is an absolute delight. Boorem's Carol is a brave, alive girl, as golden as they come, and she doesn't hit a false note in the film.
But the Bobby/Carol subplot, like the mother/son subplot, is mere background to the Ted/Bobby plot, which often becomes lost in the film's meandering. A third subplot, involving a homophobic town bully, is also interesting but serves largely to distract from the main story.
Hearts in Atlantis is dedicated to legendary cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, who filmed it and passed away shortly thereafter. It's a fitting tribute, as the cinematography outshines most everything else in the film. Golds and browns dominate the screen, and we are transported by Sobocinski's small-town-on-the-edge-of-the-woods vision. Dark alleys become portals of evil in his hands, and our eyes are held fixed to the screen throughout.
Had the screenplay adaptation measured up, this could have been an outstanding film. Perhaps the problem lies in adaptation. Here, screenwriter William Goldman, usually one of the best, appears to want to keep every thread of King's story intact, sacrificing nothing for a central, focused plot. The result is a story that feels unnecessarily drawn out, not particularly imaginatively told and devoid of rhythm.
With its very sympathetic young hero, Bobby, Hearts of Atlantis is a good film for the 10- to 12-year-old set, and is a pleasant enough outing for adults.