Hearts in Atlantis
Directed by Scott Hicks
(Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, David Morse)
It’s 1960, and fatherless 11-year-old Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin, 15 Minutes) wishes for a Schwinn Black Phantom on his birthday. Instead, he receives a library card and a mysterious houseguest with telepathic powers named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), who warns the boy of the mysterious “low men.” Low, “in the Dickensian sense,” Ted explains, are creepy Men in Black who want to harness and exploit his imperative talents.
The premise for Hearts in Atlantis undone, it becomes the umpteenth Stephen King adaptation to reach the big screen since Stand by Me brought about bittersweet recollections of youth and industry respect for Rob Reiner. Based on a conglomeration of several short stories (most notably, “Low Men in Yellow Coats”) within King’s novel Hearts in Atlantis, the film attempts to evoke the nostalgic spirit of earlier King adaptations, but instead offers only a weaker version of past success and trivial allegorical expressions on a changing country.
Director Scott Hicks and his screenwriter, William Goldman (who adapted King’s Misery to the screen), fumble the advantage of hindsight by detailing Bobby’s world of impending doom with cliches and hammy rhetoric. What the low men obviously represent – the eventual loss of innocence in both Bobby and 1960s America – is strikingly unimaginative. One would think the assassination of President Kennedy, the Vietnam war and countless other tragedies deserve better representation than shadow-figures and government G-men.
Hearts in Atlantis has condonable moments. Anthony Hopkins, who plays Ted as a cuddlier Boo Radley, demonstrates his aptitude for soft, subtle roles. The sad-eyed Anton Yelchin is a mature talent, and David Morse, as the adult Bobby, somehow manages to stay above the schmaltzy script despite his unnecessary bookend scenes that have become an arbitrary staple to King’s films (think Stand by Me and The Green Mile).
Hicks is no doubt an accomplished director, with both the vivid Shine and the underrated Snow Falling on Cedars to his credit, and Goldman may be film’s most accomplished screenwriter, so the result of their collaboration with a masterful storyteller like Stephen King is surprisingly dry. Perhaps they feared some low men of their own.
Hearts in Atlantis opens today in theatres nationwide.