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HEARTS IN ATLANTIS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, David Morse
Director:  Scott Hicks
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  101 Minutes
Release Date:  February 12, 2002

“Ted?”

“Yes, Carol, my dear?”

“You’re a strange man.”

“Shh.  Tell no one.”

Film ****

Hearts in Atlantis weaves a magical spell of nostalgia, seeing the world through the eyes of a young boy in all its wonder, horror, happiness and disappointment.  It’s a film rich in pure emotional texture, instinctually letting us feel what the characters feel, without ever hitting a false or melodramatic note, even with the story’s strange twists and turns.

Australian director Scott Hicks, who captured the attention of the world with his masterful Shine and his underrated follow-up Snow Falling on Cedars, takes a story by Stephen King and spins an unusual movie about coming of age, loss of innocence, and hope for the future, despite inevitable disillusionment.

The boy is Bobby Garfield (a terrific young Yelchin), a good kid growing up in Connecticut in 1960.  He just turned eleven, and seems to be living a life almost entirely sans grown-ups.  His father died years earlier, and his mother (Davis), seems too distracted and hopelessly self centered to really serve as a parent.

When a strange elderly man named Ted Brautigan (Hopkins) moves in upstairs from Bobby, it is the beginning of a subtle new adventure for both.  One of Hicks’ masterful touches is how we can see Ted both through our own eyes and Bobby’s as well…my first impression was that he was kind and endearing, if a little dotty.  But Bobby seemed to see magic in the old man right from the start.

They strike up the kind of friendship I wished I had as a kid, where a wise adult whom you actually believe in tells him in advance about banner moments in his life.  I loved when he asked Bobby if he’d ever kissed his “girlfriend”, Carol (Boorem).  He responds with disdain, like any young boy might.  “You will,” muses Ted, “and it will be the kiss by which you measure all others for the rest of your life.”  The wisdom of our own experience tells us Ted is right; and Bobby, to his credit, takes the words to heart, even if he doesn’t fully understand what they mean.

I’m not going to give away the story elements that I didn’t know about going in…I found not knowing anything only furthered my enjoyment of the film.  Suffice to say, the movie beautifully portrayed a loving, sweet relationship between a weary old man and a boy whose eyes were opening up to the world.  It’s the best of that kind of pairing I’ve seen since Norman and Billy in On Golden Pond twenty years earlier.

But though the story of Ted and Bobby may be key, there were also some magical moments shared between Bobby and Carol that were true and perfect…moments that were delightful, and moments that were frightening.  Before the film is over, you will have started considering the many parallels along the way, which Hicks subtly draws and uses for a building structure that keeps all characters in mind and working whether on the screen or not.

Anthony Hopkins is terrific as always…he’s played kind men, and he’s played psychotic killers, but credit to his talent, despite the fact that Ted is a little out there, we know from the first moment we see him that he is trustworthy.  But not enough credit can go to the two youngsters in the cast.  Both Anton Yelchin and Mika Boorem turn in thoughtful, credible performances that belie their young years…I hope to see more of them in the future.

But mostly, I credit Scott Hicks, who once again threads an impressive, emotional tapestry with real feelings, intelligence, and a great deal of faith in his characters.  Many is the film that hearkens you back to your youth, but Hearts in Atlantis takes away the wall that separates memory from experience.  Best of all, it gets it right.

Video ***1/2

This is a very good anamorphic transfer from Warner Bros.  Scott Hicks, and his late cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski (to whom the film is dedicated), created a visual look for his flashback that is warm, sunny, and picture postcard perfect.  The bright tones render beautifully, with excellent coloring and crisp, sharp detail.  The bookend pieces in adulthood take on a cooler, slightly darker tone…the difference is subtle, but beautifully rendered.  I noticed no grain, but did see a bit of compression evident in one or two more static shots, in the form of light chroma noise.  These are very fleeting, however, and really don’t detract from the overall enjoyment.  A worthy effort.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is a rather quiet affair, never really reaching back for that extra punch of dynamic range.  The .1 channel gets very little use, but a few sequences open up both stages for an ambient effect.  Panning effects are smoothly rendered, and dialogue is always crystal clear.

Features ***

The disc starts off with a wonderful commentary track by Scott Hicks, who’s a pleasure to listen to…thoughtful, unassuming, filled with great affection for those who worked with him.  It’s filled with plenty of good information, and like the film itself, emotional reflection as well.  There is a half hour interview with Anthony Hopkins conducted by Hicks in lieu of a promotional featurette (and better, in my opinion).  Rounding out is a stills gallery, talent files, and a trailer.

Summary:

Sometimes there’s magic in the movies, and Hearts in Atlantis is filled with the best kind…the kind that makes us see the world through our youthful eyes once again.  Director Scott Hicks has taken a Stephen King story and translated it to the screen, creating a warm, rich, and well acted film that reverberates with all the hopes and fears of childhood.  Highly recommended.