Film Reviews

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS

By • Sep 28th, 2001 •

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Very strange Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) comes to a rural community to rent the attic room in Bobby Garfield’s (Anton Yelchin) house. Bobby’s distant, cold mother Elizabeth (Hope Davis) is selfish and angry. For Bobby’s eleventh birthday she gifts him with an adult library card instead of a much longed-for bicycle, then goes out and spends her meager earnings on new dresses. She has terrible things to say about Bobby’s dead father. Her behavior goes downhill from here as the story progresses.

Scott Hicks, who last directed the absolutely dreadful SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS (for awhile it was my benchmark for unwatchable cinema until I saw CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LOS ANGELES) must be working through Evil Parent Syndrome. Remember Peter Helfgott (David’s father in Hick’s breakthrough film, SHINE)? Here, the kid is not a troubled genius who taunts his abusive father, but a typical American cherub-faced, sweet kid.

At least the kid in SHINE had poor hygiene and was petulant. Bobby is pure angel. I could almost rationalize David’s father’s characterization in SHINE – perhaps prodigies need a domineering influence to excel (like the fathers of Tiger Woods and Serena and Venus Williams) and, he did survive the Holocaust. Bobby’s mother is just horrible. Elizabeth is a one-dimensional harridan who believes she can advance her real estate ‘career’ with long hours and fancy, new dresses. Hope Davis, usually too dour for my taste, has a severe face that is perfect for this role. Elizabeth doesn’t have a smile in her.

Ted befriends Bobby and hires him, for $1.00 a week, to read the newspaper to him. And, to keep an eye out for ‘The Low Men,’ who are after him because of his unique psychic powers. Since Bobby has such a poor relationship with his mother, he only tells her about the newspaper reading part of their agreement.

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, with a screenplay by William Goldman, is based on a novel by Stephen King. Set in 1960 and filled with rock and roll classics, it has a narrative framing device, used recently in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE GREEN MILE, that never works for me. The story opens in the present with photographer Bob Garfield (David Morse) receiving a baseball glove in the mail. He recalls a promise his best friend made back in 1960 to will him his baseball glove.

Anthony Hopkins gives a wonderfully seductive performance. Thank goodness he doesn’t overdo the lost in trance, psychic on the lam aspect of his character. Hopkins keeps the focus on the relationship between himself and Bobby. Ted Brautigan’s psychic abilities are incidental to Hopkins. The film is indeed slow moving but the turn of events – we know The Low Men are coming – plays out in an unusual way. Hicks invests the film with a strange, menacing tone that works to lift it from a minor thriller to an interesting psychological drama.

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