HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
Director: Scott Hicks
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, David Morse
MPAA Rating: (for violence and thematic elements)
Running Time: 1:41
Release Date: 9/28/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
There are moments in our lives that seem timeless—moments we wish we could return to. Perhaps we would change something. Perhaps we would just savor the opportunity. Hearts in Atlantis is a series of such moments. It is a film more concerned with creating a good feeling in the audience than with telling a coherent or complete story. Watching the movie, I realized all of these things, and yet I still walked away feeling uplifted. My brain pointed out the clichés, the conventions, but my heart was warmed, and all the flaws really didn’t matter.
And there are flaws—some of them major. The movie feels like two movies, one more complete than the other. On one level, there is a coming-of-age story and, on the other, a supernatural mystery. One day, a grown man (David Morse) receives a baseball glove and discovers that a childhood friend of his has died. After attending the funeral, Robert Garfield reminisces about a time in his childhood in which, well, many things happened. Bobby Garflield (Anton Yelchin) was expecting a bicycle for his birthday, but instead gets a adult library card. His mother (Hope Davis) tells him repeatedly that his father didn’t leave them with much after he died, although she does manage to find nice dresses for work. Soon after, a mysterious and well-read man named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves in upstairs and offers Bobby a job: to read the papers every day for a dollar. There’s more to Ted than his intelligence and generosity; he appears to be able to read minds and tell the future.
Where Ted came from and where he is going is all unimportant. But even still, the movie contains a subplot about a group of "Low Men" ("I mean ‘low’ in the Dickensian sense.") who are after him. Why they are after him and what they will do to him are more important elements, but they are treated in the same way as the previous ones. This leaves an open-ended conclusion to the subplot, but with so much invested into it by the time it is completed, the outcome should not be this open-ended. In fact, the entire psychic subplot is essentially extraneous. His existence in the film is simply to give sage advice and words of wisdom, but the rest really has no bearing on the material. I would go so far as to call the entire character extraneous if not for Hopkins’ skillful performance. He helps give the boy/psychic relationship a feeling of completeness, even though on a screenplay level, it is far from such.
The other elements of the film are its best. The coming-of-age story here hits follows the tracks of every other coming-of-age story. There’s the first love (and kiss), the bully, the bike, and so on. There are also darker elements here though. The mother/son relationship is more complex than we’ve come to expect from movies of this type; the bully will become much more violent; and Bobby’s mom learns her boss’ true intentions. The movie is based on one of the short stories in Stephen King’s collection Hearts in Atlantis (not the story entitled "Hearts in Atlantis," strangely enough), so these darker twists should be expected. They are also a bit refreshing after the extremely sweet or just plain underdeveloped moments.
The movie contains a bookend opening and closing. The finale will have people scratching their heads. Not because it is complicated, but because the story seems incomplete and the lesson comes from nowhere. I know I had this problem along with the others I had. Ultimately, though, Hearts in Atlantis is a feel-good movie, and I will not deny that it left me with a very nice feeling throughout.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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