What if one of life's mysteries was living upstairs?
When you think of Stephen King, you don't usually think "softie." Well, that was the old Stephen King. The new Stephen King has become the master of emotionally wringing drama and nostalgic fortitude. Ever since Frank Darabont made the critically acclaimed The Shawshank Redemption, it seems as if the "new" King is all the rage. Darabont's follow-up The Green Mile was a huge hit with both critics and audiences, garnering Oscar nods for, among other things, Best Actor and Best Picture. In 2001, director Scott Hicks (Shine) and screenwriter William Goldman (Misery, The Princess Bride) fashioned a coming-of-age story set in the 1960s with Hearts In Atlantis, based on the novel by King. Starring Anthony Hopkins (The Remains Of The Day, Hannibal) and Hope Davis (Mumford), Hearts In Atlantis arrives on DVD care of Warner Brothers.
Facts of the Case
Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin) lives in Connecticut, circa 1960, with his emotionally distant mother Liz (Davis). Racked with bills left over from her now deceased husband, Liz and Bobby are strapped for cash. Trying to make ends meet, Liz takes in a boarder in the form of Ted Brautigan (Hopkins), a psychically gifted loner who carries his possessions in paper bags and is always on the move. After a while, Ted and Bobby strike up a friendship when Ted requests Bobby read him the newspaper for a dollar a day. After awhile Ted reveals the real reason for Bobby's job: to look out for the Low Men. Someone is after Ted and his mental gift, and it's Bobby's job to keep his eye out for unscrupulous characters. At the same time Anton spends much of his time with his two best friends, Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar), playing in the warm summer air and dodging the local bullies. As the summer stretches on, Bobby will learn many lessons from Ted as he keeps an every watchful eye out for Ted's mysterious enemies.
Childhood is a funny thing: as you get older, memories get clouded and fuzzy. This may have been the case for Bobby Garfield. Hearts In Atlantis is a very nostalgic piece of entertainment that is much more style over substance. As a film, it lends itself well to feelings and sets; as a story, it often falls disappointingly flat.
I haven't read King's novel on which Hearts In Atlantis is based. From my understanding, the book was made up of separate stories that were sort of mashed together to form this single film. The script by William Goldman often lacks focus and ideas. It's a rather simple story: an old drifter befriends a small boy and asks him to look out for those who are tracking him. As I reflect, I realize that I really didn't know a lot about Hearts In Atlantis when I sat down to watch it. I think that I was expecting either something else or something more (or, maybe both). Director Scott Hicks is very good at setting the tone and mood of the film; the framing of the picture and colors are all lush and dream like, recalling a more innocent time when homes were left unlocked and children played until sundown. Hicks is also apt at establishing an undercurrent of danger—the dreaded Low Men that are after Ted are ominous and looming. They are, I assume, the FBI or something worse. Unfortunately, the movie never is very clear on who Ted's enemies are; while some might find this ambiguity enticing, I found it rather frustrating. Goldman's script plays well with the relationship between both Bobby and his mother, and Bobby and Ted. Bobby's mother is a distant woman who seems beaten down by life's trials. In Ted Bobby finds a sort of father figure. Building an instant rapport with Ted, Bobby learns much about himself and the world around him (and the all important lesson that reading is good)!
Is there any actor that's more interesting to watch than Anthony Hopkins? Hopkins is able to take the most trite of dialogue and turn it into something meaningful and special. As Ted Brautigan, Hopkins is both tired and wise, a complex mix of his world weariness and caution. In the same vein, yet in a different way, Hope Davis as Bobby's mother Liz is also tired—but wise she is not. Davis is an interesting, tender actress that works well as a 1960s woman. Child actor Anton Yelchin plays Bobby with just enough cuteness as to work in his favor without being overly sappy. The film is book ended by having a grown-up Bobby (played by the talented David Morse) reminisce about his childhood summer memories. That device has been used over and over again in films, and while Morse's work here is fine, it's still a bit overused and trite in this movie.
Hearts In Atlantis doesn't come close to the emotional impact of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, or even King's other childhood nostalgia tale, Stand By Me. It's a movie that is worth seeing for the performances and setting, but sadly not the story.
Hearts In Atlantis is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Warner has done a very nice job on this print, making sure that all aspects of the color patterns and black levels are even and well rendered. I spotted nary a hindrance of edge enhancement or grain anywhere in the image. This wonderful looking transfer is very pleasing to the eye.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and French. Being that this is a drama and not an action film, this soundtrack is a bit more subdued and quiet. However, that doesn't mean that this mix isn't atmospheric or well done; there are many instances of ambient noise and spaciousness in this track. Some directional effects are utilized throughout, and all aspects of the soundtrack are free of distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English and French.
While certainly not a full blown special edition, Hearts In Atlantis does include a few well produced extra features. The first is a commentary track by director Scott Hicks. Whatever you think about the film itself, this commentary is very interesting and well worth the listen. Hicks is a soft spoken man who knows much about the medium of film in both its technical and story telling aspects. Discussing both the ideas and characters in the film, as well as the camera work, Hicks has a lot to say about this film.
The other gem on this disc is an interview conducted between Hicks (who looks like an elderly version of Joey Ramone) and Anthony Hopkins. This great piece shows both Hopkins and Hicks discussing their thoughts about the film and what it was like to work with the actors. A neat little extra that definitely pleases.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the film, a list of the cast and crew from the movie, and a stills gallery of about 20 behind-the-scenes photos.
Hearts In Atlantis is a movie that is worth seeing, though it's not quite as good as I'd hoped. Anthony Hopkins does a great job with his role (as usual), and director Scott Hicks shows that with the right material (such as the biopic Shine) he can do wonders on celluloid. Warner has done a fine job on this disc, adding just enough bonus materials to interest fans.
A decent movie that's free to go on $100 bail. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Scott Hicks
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