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HEARTS IN ATLANTIS(director: Scott Hicks; screenwriters: William Goldman /Stephen King novel; cinematographer: Piotr Sobocinski; editor: Pip Karmel; cast: Anthony Hopkins (Ted Brautigan), Anton Yelchin (Bobby Garfield), Hope Davis (Liz Garfield), Mika Boorem (Carol Gerber), David Morse (Adult Bobby Garfield), Will Rothhaar (Sullivan), Dierdre O’Connell (Mrs. Gerber), Timothy Reifsnyder (Harry Doolin); Runtime: 101; Warner Brothers; 2001)
“The film hopes your imagination will be better than the author’s in finishing the story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Australian director Scott Hicks (“Shine”/”Snow Falling on Cedars”) has adapted a Stephen King novel for his latest film. It’s a bland coming-of-age film that has the promise of being a horror story but that never quite comes together. The film plays more like a schmaltzy character study and nostalgia piece about an all-American child of the 1950s, Bobby Garfield. The focal point of the story is about the relationship the 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin as the child) has with an eccentric older man (Anthony Hopkins) who boarded in his widowed mom’s private house during the summer of 1960.

The story is told in flashback by the adult Bobby Garfield (the adult-David Morse). He is a middle-aged photographer who receives in the opening scene via FedEx a package containing an old baseball glove from his childhood friend Sully (Will Rothhaar), a glove he once coveted. Sully has just passed away. This inheritance stirs up childhood memories as Bobby goes back for the funeral and visits his childhood neighborhood of low-income middle-class private houses on his old neighborhood of quiet tree-lined streets in Norwich, Connecticut, and he recalls that eventful summer and his intense friendship with Sully and the first girl he kissed Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem). She’s a sweet blonde, whose kiss on the stalled Ferris wheel will be the one he will judge all other kisses by. Bobby’s saddened to learn at the funeral that she is also dead. When Bobby moved at the end of that summer to Massachusetts they never corresponded and lost contact, even though they promised to always keep in contact.

Bobby’s childhood memories bring on an orgy of nostalgia–from the Platter’s singing rock & roll, flashy vintage cars, the Lone Ranger on TV, and many other memories from the early 1960s. There’s not much of a story here that isn’t a contrivance or dripping with goo.

It’s basically a film about Anthony Hopkins hamming it up as Ted Brautigan the mysterious stranger who comes with his possessions in a shopping bag to stay at Liz Garfield’s working class neighborhood residence, renting out her attic space and forming a father-son relationship with the boy who craves a father figure to counter his self-absorbed mother. The mother selfishly has no time or commitment to love Bobby since her husband died six years ago leaving her broke and having to work as a secretary in a real-estate office. She instantly doesn’t like Ted, saying she doesn’t trust anyone who moves with shopping bags and later on she suspects him of being a homosexual; and, finally she just does not feel comfortable around him. The viewer is led to believe that Ted might be a possible child molester, a discharge from a mental asylum, a harmless transient, or someone hunted by the Mafia or FBI. Ted doesn’t appear to be the wise and spiritual man he’s passing himself off as. And he doesn’t appear to be a great seer, or someone who is very sensitive because he was hurt in the past. If he was a mind-reader, why would he tell the woman who hates his guts where he’s going when there are unfriendly people offering a reward for him!

As the friendship grows between the boy, Bobby, and the stranger, we are forced to hear such banal profundities from the pen of King uttered through the lips of Hopkins as: “Sometimes when you’re young, you have moments of such happiness, you think you’re living in someplace magical, like Atlantis must have been.” Ted also reflects: “Then we grow up, and our hearts break into two.”

Hopkins gives the kid a root beer on his visits to his attic apartment; pays to have Bobby read the newspaper to him and keep watch on strangers in town he calls the “low men;” advises him on which classics to read (the kid chooses “Lost Horizon”), as Bobby now has an adult library card thanks to his mother’s birthday gift. Ted tells the impressionable kid, whom he calls kiddo, to my dismay, that he’s on the run from the “low men” who are dangerous thugs who drive flashy cars and wear dark suits and fedoras and who put up deceptive posters for lost pets all over town to locate him. Who these “low men” are is never answered, but we are eventually led to believe that they could be FBI men who want to use his psychic gifts to help them flesh out Commies. Needless to say, the kid also finds that he has temporary psychic powers as he goes to a country fair and tests his skills with a card shark and wins. This comes after mom warns him to never play cards for money like his dad, whom she said was a loser.

Everything felt loaded down with good versus evil characters, with situations that seemed manufactured. The scene that annoyed me the most, was that formulaic bully scene between Harry Doolin and Bobby. He is not only a bully who beats up Carol and Bobby, but he’s also an in-the-closet queer who calls Bobby a queer to draw attention away from himself. You can bet your Schwinn Black Phantom bike that Bobby will get physical revenge on him before this pic ends.

The film hopes your imagination will be better than the author’s in finishing the story. In the end, Hopkins’ portrayal is too creepy and ambivalent to draw any conclusion about what all his inward hurt means and why he seems so strange and saddened. We never see any of the characters develop or really get to know them as real people, we are only led to what they might be. Everyone was waiting for either the “low men” to emerge, or for another trite nugget of so-called wisdom to fall from the lips of Hopkins.

REVIEWED ON 10/14/2001 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”