Hearts in Atlantis
Directed by Scott Hicks
Written from the Stephen King novel by William Goldman
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin


Hearts in Atlantis

Working from Stephen King's fable of a man pursued by unseen agents representing the evil power of an American government that tracks down suspects in the Red scare years of the 1950s, William Goldman has written a lovely and moving screenplay that contrasts the short-lived respite of the victim, Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), with the coming-of-age of an 11-year-old boy, Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), with whom he finds temporary sanctuary.

Bobby's father has died and he lives with his mother Elizabeth (Hope Davis), a bitter woman who blames the dead husband for every bad thing while denying Bobby any kind of affection or support. One day Brautigan, their new boarder, shows up - a mysterious man. He frightens Elizabeth but fascinates Bobby, who quickly warms to him.

Told in flashback by the now-grown Bobby, a photographer whose work takes him around the world, the film begins with the funeral of his childhood friend Sully, who has died in the military. Bobby decides to revisit his childhood home in a poor Connecticut town, where that summer, as 11-year-olds, he, Sully (Will Rothhaar) and their pal Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem) were inseparable friends. The film juxtaposes the closing-in on Ted with the growing-up of Bobby, and Goldman is not above stealing lines from his earlier screenplay for "The Princess Bride," as when Ted asks Bobby if he's kissed Carol yet: "Of course not," says Bobby. "Well, you will, and when you do it will be the kiss by which all others will be measured," says Ted.

The film sets the year as 1960, by which time the (real) witch hunt had run out of steam; and we never get to identify exactly who Ted's pursuers are - they are simply called 'low men' in the film - but as Bobby reads the newspapers to Ted he keeps finding stories about J. Edgar Hoover's hunt for suspected Communists. The conceit is original, but somehow a bit too much is left ambiguous in the film. Should we wonder whether the studio suits wanted it toned down? There are other problems as well. Davis plays Bobby's mother as a one-dimensional virago, mean and petty toward Bobby, denying him anything while claiming poverty and blaming his father, but indulging herself in enough outfits to stock Bonwit Teller for a year. In the context of the film this is needless and denies her the chance to understand the implications of her actions later in the film. Young Mika Boorem, playing Carol, is too one-note as an actress to be a match for Bobby, and in one crucial scene where she must cry in pain she sounds like a kid at a party pretending to boo-hoo.

In any case, the acting by Hopkins and young Yelchin is resourceful, and they make a fine team, playing off each other without self-consciousness or affectation. We expect that from Hopkins, of course, and he does not let us down. But Yelchin has a wonderful transparency to the camera - we can see into his thoughts - and the film is alive whenever he is on screen. The direction by Scott Hicks ("Shine") is professional though not exciting, but he does not get in the way of the story. Overall, the film is a refreshing change from the predigested drivel we've suffered through this year: a film that celebrates ambiguity and does not try to answer every question.