Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:41 - Released 9/28/01

I have been a fan of Anthony Hopkins since way back when he was smarting off to his mother Katherine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter. But even I have trouble getting my arms around his latest starring vehicle, Scott Hicks's Hearts In Atlantis, a quasi-supernatural story about an aging psychic who moves in upstairs from a young boy and his divorced mother, and changes their lives. The film seems at once dripping with sentiment and emotionally barren, as if director Hicks is either trying too hard or not able to get his actors to properly immerse themselves. Moreover, the story, adapted for the screen by William Goldman from a portion of a novel of the same name by Stephen King, has a strange and fragmented feel, as if major plot and character elements were cut out. Such excisions are often necessary for the sake of brevity, but it must be done in such a way as to to keep the narrative flow intact; I think this story has lost too many teeth.

The film starts with a short prologue starring David Morse as photographer Robert Garfield, who goes to visit his childhood residence in Connecticut after learning that the second of his two best friends has passed away. Though the house is condemned and in dilapidated shape, he goes in and immediately begins reliving the events that began with his 11th birthday, back in 1960. In this flashback, which constitutes most of the film, young Bobby Garfield is played by Russian-born child actor Anton Yelchin, and his two friends, Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully (Will Rothhaar), are still very much alive.

On the morning of his birthday, Bobby discovers that he will not be getting the beautiful new bicycle he wanted, since his mother Elizabeth (Hope Davis) is having trouble making ends meet since his father disappeared and left her with a stack of bills. Also on that morning, a new tenant arrives who will be renting the room in the attic—a Mr. Ted Brautigan (Hopkins), who offers to hire Bobby to read the newspaper to him for $1 a week so that he may save up and purchase the bike for himself. Though Elizabeth doesn't trust the old man, Bobby takes a liking to him, as do his two friends. He soon learns that there's more to it than just reading, however—he's also expected to keep a watch out for what Ted calls "low men," who are apparently pursuing him for some mysterious purpose. While Bobby's mom breaks one mother-child appointment after another to work late for her boss (a man of questionable character), Bobby spends more and more time with Ted, eventually learning that he has the ability to read what other people are thinking. In fact, he can impart that ability on Bobby with a simple touch. This, it turns out, is why the "low men" are after him. Then, two events that happen concurrently impact Bobby's and his mother's lives in a way that they never expected.

While this film has the potential to be either a heartwarming coming-of-age story or a tense psychological thriller, it doesn't really achieve either goal, often bogging down in cryptic philosophy and slow-moving moments of inexplicable character development. The script seems stilted and inaccessible; the actors seem distracted. Though there are moments of emotion, especially for Bobby, Yelchin seems detached, as does his adult counterpart, Morse. This is apparently a choice by director Hicks, but it seems to run counter to the intended theme of the text. However, the film does show why Hopkins is such a well-respected actor; his essay of Brautigan, while distant, is subtle and tender, and the film boasts some touching moments. ***

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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