One common recurring narrative in many of King's better-known novel-to-screen adaptations -- such as Stand by Me, The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption -- incorporates an older gentleman recalling his youth or a life-changing incident of his life. Hearts in Atlantis follows this to a tee. After learning of a childhood friend's death, a middle-aged photographer Robert Garfield (David Morse) ventures back to his hometown for the funeral. Upon arrival, Robert recalls memories of youth and of one innocent, fateful summer when a mysterious man named Ted Brautigan (Hopkins) entered his life and changed it forever.
At the beginning of summer, old Teddy rents the studio apartment on the upper floor of his childhood home. During his stay, Teddy displays the usual, weird behavioral traits of all King characters. He's a strange gent who carries his belongings around in brown paper bags; says the kookiest things about young love, life as a kid, and the pains of growing old; appears as a mythical figure in times of crisis; and carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Lonely little boy Bobby Garfield (Yelchin) takes a liking to Teddy because his mother (Hope Davis) is a workaholic who spends more money on dresses than birthday presents and his father is dead. During the summer, Bobby falls in love and shares his first kiss with the neighborhood girl, Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem), endures the trials of defending his honor from the neighborhood bullies, pines for a bicycle in the local convenience store, and discovers Teddy's mysterious gift of seeing beyond the world. Bobby is then entrusted with informing and somehow protecting Teddy from the Low Men, dangerous ruthless faceless characters who drive fancy cars and cast long shadows, who are hunting for Teddy because of his unique "gift."
All of these circumstances would have made the film a success except for one damning thing. Everything -- from the unrequited love of two childhood sweethearts to the emotional abuse of a lonely boy -- feels so recognizable and indistinguishable from all of the previous works that deal with these similar themes. I kept catching myself remembering parts from Stand By Me and even The Goonies. It's a shame, because the film looks great from a technical standpoint and both Hopkins and Yelchin pull off great performances. In the end, though, the film feels cheap and used up -- like watching a two-hour Hallmark special. You feel guilty for even liking the good parts.
Even the message of Hearts in Atlantis becomes lost in the emotional manipulation by both the characters and story. Instead of giving the audience the ability to develop its own emotional ties to the film's narrative and personalities, the script dictates pre-defined moments of trepidation, intrigue, anguish, sadness, loneliness, and frustration by the obvious flow of the characters' dialogue and the film's plot points. One key example is when Hopkins details the story of a once-great football player winning one last game for the home team. So much deliberation is given to this scenario that we all but expect the main character of the story to have to overcome a challenging obstacle in his own life. It's a desperate manipulation, and it has a totally opposite effect: In the end, you can care less what happens to Teddy or his little friend.
I ate his perm, with fava beans...
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th September 2001
Box Office USA: $23.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $24.2M
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Castle Rock Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
Fresh: 67 Rotten: 68
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Scott Hicks
Screenwriter: William Goldman
Starring: Anthony Hopkins as Ted Brautigan, Anton Yelchin as Robert 'Bobby' Garfield, Hope Davis as Elizabeth 'Liz' Garfield, Mika Boorem as Carol Gerber, David Morse as Adult Bobby Garfield, Alan Tudyk as Monte Man, Tom Bower as Len Files, Celia Weston as Alana Files