‘Hearts in Atlantis’ review

ndsu spectrum: Movie review

‘Hearts in Atlantis’ is Stephen King at his best

oct. 5, 2001


There once was a time when getting an adult library card, playing ball with friends and watching “The Lone Ranger” on TV could fill a mind with excitement. There was a time when saving up for that shiny new bike was an all-consuming obsession. There was a time when tales of Bronco Nagurski inching towards the end zone could fill a mind with awe.

You may not remember that time, but Stephen King does, and now he’s sharing it with us. The time is the early ‘60s and the film is “Hearts in Atlantis,” a somber but beautiful love letter to the last age of innocence before the communist scare and Vietnam War changed everyone’s lives for the worse.

The film is based on the first of the five interlocking novellas in King’s 1999 masterpiece “Hearts in Atlantis.” The title works OK for this film, although it technically belongs to the second novella, about college students who get addicted to the card game Hearts in the late ‘60s. King views this time as a lost continent of sorts — an age of innocence which was forgotten even by the people who lived at the time. Of course, pundits would argue that Atlantis never existed, and that we are merely seeing the past through King’s rose-colored glasses. Either way, it’s a nice slice of nostalgia.

The film opens with an older Bobby Garfield receiving a package in the mail — it’s a baseball glove that belonged to his childhood friend Sully, who just passed away. The older Bobby is played by David Morse, who has the softest and most pained voice in Hollywood — this guy could read a phone book and make people cry, so don’t forget the Kleenex.

The film flashes back to an 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) who lives in an apartment on a boring street in a small town in Maine. His best friends are Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully (Will Rothhaar). His mom (Hope Davis) works long hours at the local bank, struggling to make ends meet since her husband died. A grandfatherly man named Ted (Anthony Hopkins) moves into the upstairs apartment and quickly befriends Bobby by talking about great authors and making fart noises by blowing into his hands (remember, this is a Stephen King work).

Ted pays Bobby a dollar a day to read him the newspaper and keep an eye out for “low men” in flashy cars who are pursuing Ted for reasons unknown. Ted has a gift for reading people’s minds, but even if he didn’t, he’s clearly experienced so much in his life that he knows exactly how bullies, mothers, and low men will act in any given situation.

William Goldman does a fine job of adapting King’s work — he excises a lot of Sully’s character, eliminates King’s four-page diatribe on flatulence (which was, admittedly, quite funny in the book), and turns a tragic ending into a sad, hopeful one. But overall, Goldman takes the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach and does a straight adaptation. Likewise, director Scott Hicks translates King’s word paintings into nostalgic images (with a little help from AM radio classics).

But the real heart of the movie is the interaction between Ted and Bobby. Hopkins gives a warm, understated turn as a man who knows life sucks but has learned to live with it. Yelchin gives a realistic, adorable performance as a kid who suspects life might suck, but is still filled with wonder. Ted and Bobby are essentially the same person, only with 60 years separating them.

The casting director deserves praise for finding Yelchin, who was born to play this role — he looks and acts exactly like the Bobby of King’s book. And he’s surprisingly good at emoting. The scene where he finds Carol crying in the woods with a dislocated shoulder features some of the best acting by pre-teens ever captured on film. Bobby is crying because his friend is hurt, but he’s also trying to be a man and tell her everything will be OK.

King may be known as the master of horror, but “Hearts in Atlantis” once again shows his true strength is capturing the raw essence of humanity (especially childhood), and making us laugh, cry and reflect. Rank this alongside “Apt Pupil” and “The Green Mile” as one of the best King adaptations.

Title: “Hearts in Atlantis”

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, Will Rothhaar, David Morse

Written by: William Goldman, based on Stephen King’s novel

Director: Scott Hicks

Grade: A