Hearts in Atlantis
- Scott Hicks
- Reviewed by
- a.k.a. Jacinda
- Review date
- Wednesday, September 26, 2001
After an old friend’s death Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his hometown where he is reminded of his childhood. He remembers the time when a mysterious stranger changed his life forever. Ted Brautigan (Sir Anthony Hopkins) moves into the upstairs apartment of his mother’s house. The 11-year-old kid feels instantly connected to the tender man with a mysterious past. Brautigan asks Bobby (Anton Yelchin) to read him the newspaper and to look for the “lowmen” who are coming to get him. The young boy bonds with this man and witnesses Ted’s supernatural powers. At the same time he has to deal with his widowed mother’s selfishness, his first love and the fear of losing his strange new friend.
Even though the trailer suggests that this movie is a mystery thriller, it turns out to be in the vein of Stand by Me instead of being similar to the likes of Carrie. Brautigan’s supernatural powers actually take on a subordinate role. They are introduced in a compelling way but the portrayal becomes incoherent in the course of the movie. In the end they could have left them out entirely - maybe it would have made a better picture. We never get to know about Brautigan’s past and the exact powers he has. Instead he seems to use them arbitrarily at several occasions. It is also unclear in which ways these powers pass on to Bobby who only uses them in the scene at the fair. The problem with these psychic powers is that they leave you waiting for an answer, a mystery to be revealed, a turning point of the story. But there is none. This is the most unsatisfying aspect of the movie. The mystery touch simply does not fit well into the context – or at least it is not handled in a thrilling way.
Instead the movie is a sincere reminiscence of childhood with some interesting themes and excellent acting. Sir Anthony Hopkins is as good as ever but young Anton Yelchin’s presence is even more radiant. His performance as Bobby keeps the perfect balance between innocence and awareness. The bonding between these characters is depicted in a credible way. Unfortunately the pacing of the movie is rather slow and most of the incidents have no direct connection to each other. In fact some scenes feel entirely obsolete. As for example, the attacks by the older kids seem like a silly showcase to present the powers of Brautigan. They would have fit into Stand by Me but not necessarily into Hearts in Atlantis.
Then there is the conflict with Bobby’s widowed mother (Hope Davis) who refuses to take care of her only child. She cannot grant her son any happiness that she herself is not experiencing. The outcome of this conflict is not very satisfactory as her character and her motivations are not described sharply enough. There is also the friendship between the three kids. The boy (I don’t even remember his name) stays completely pale due to the fact that he only appears in a few scenes. I suppose his character is more important in the book. Instead the focus is on Carol (Mika Boorem) who becomes Bobby’s first girlfriend. I must say that I really like the way they handled this innocent love story. There are some impressive and beautiful scenes showing their blossoming relationship. The ending gives an over-all bittersweet mood to the movie. It centers on the loss of loved ones and the way you have to accept it. Nevertheless the storytelling has its weak spots mainly caused by the lack of coherence. I could imagine that the book sheds more light on the incidents and the mystery surrounding Brautigan.
Hearts in Atlantis is a touching story of a boy losing his childhood innocence to face the world as it is. Hopkins and Yelchin deliver excellent performances in this otherwise unsteady movie. The script would have needed improvement. It is a shame that Hicks does not focus on one aspect, instead of many.
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