Hearts in Atlantis



USA 2001
director : Scott Hicks
script : William Goldman (based on book by Stephen King)
cinematography : Piotr Sobocinski
editing : Pip Karmel
music : Mychael Danna
lead actors : Anton Yelchin, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, David Morse
101 minutes

There’s plenty to dislike about Hearts in Atlantis: many viewers will undoubtedly find it too sentimental, too small-scale, too reminiscent of earlier Stephen King adaptations – it’s basically Stand By Me with a Green Mile twist. There’s certainly no excusing the redundant ‘framing story,’ with fiftyish photographer Bobby Garfield (Morse) attending the funeral of one of his childhood friends, and mooching around their former haunts. This is the way King likes to introduce his stories, and screenwriters, even revered veterans like Goldman, are happy to go along with it.

But here it’s a disastrous decision, underlining just what a “life-affirming” baby-boomers’ fantasy the whole thing is. And that’s a shame, because the actual story has a lot going for it. Not least the ‘small scale’ which some will level as a criticism – it’s refreshing to come across such a simple, straightforward tale which pays as much attention to its characters as it does to period details. At the centre of the film is the eleven-year-old Bobby (Yelchin), who lives with his widowed mother Liz (Davis) in suburban Connecticut. Hedonistic but permanently cash-strapped, Liz lets a room to oldster Ted Brautigan (Hopkins), whose enigmatic manner and poetic diction soon cast a spell on the impressionable Bobby …

Not a great deal actually happens – the big ‘mystery’ surrounding Brautigan is pretty straightforward, though it does involve the supernatural. The real drama, however, is psychological, with Brautigan the catalyst enabling Bobby to think for himself and confront the blindly self-centred Liz with her parental shortcomings. As a single-mother-and-kid drama, this is hardly Dancer in the Dark or You Can Count On Me, but Bobby and Liz are a convincing pair, while Hopkins turns in an engagingly benign variation on his Lecter routine of saying weird things in a gentle voice.

16th October, 2001
(seen Oct-6-01, UGC Parrs Wood, Manchester)

by Neil Young
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