What if one of
life's great mysteries moved in upstairs?
When a bad movie is slow, critics refer to it as "boring." When a good film is slow, critics refer to it as "deliberately paced." Hearts in Atlantis hovers dangerously close to the edge of boredom. Ultimately, the emotional payoff and the fine performances make the film a success.
Hearts in Atlantis is based on a short story by Stephen King. I found it interesting that the theatrical preview referred to Hearts in Atlantis as a film "from the author of the Green Mile." With the success of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, one would think that Stephen King's name would be mentioned somewhere. But, I understand why he's not. With the exception of Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Stand By Me, Pet Sematary, Misery, Delores Claiborne, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Stephen King inspired films have been panned by critics and marginally accepted by audiences. The reason King's stories usually fail as movies is due to the ineptitude of the filmmakers. Check out these no-name directors:
Lewis Teague (Cujo)
Mark L. Lester (Firestarter)
Fritz Kiersch (Children of the Corn)
Daniel Attias (Silver Bullet)
Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man)
Tommy Lee Wallace (It)
Ralph S. Singleton (Graveyard Shift)
Tom McLoughlin (Sometimes They Come Back)
Brett Leonard (The Lawnmower Man)
Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, The Stand)
John Power (The Tommyknockers)
Fraser Clarke Heston (Needful Things)
Tom Holland (The Langoliers, Thinner)
Also note that these horror schlock movies contain only one "A list" actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Running Man). We all know Arnold is best playing an Austrian cyborg with the emotional range of Samsonite luggage. Like Arnold, Samsonite comes with international name recognition and a ten year warranty against manufactures defects.
OK, I must admit that King himself has contributed to cinema suckimus. The master of horror himself directed the god awful Maximum Overdrive. King later received cosmic justice when a motorist "overdrived" the author. The prolific writer was seriously injured, but managed to produce a novel from his hospital room.
On to the film. Hearts in Atlantis is Stand by Me meets Shadowlands. We have good scenes between young actors Anton Yelchin and Mika Boorem. Their relationship represents the coming of age/innocent love story. Hopkins is worth more than the price of admission. He's worth the MSRP for the DVD. Hopkins plays everybody's ideal grandfather (who happens to have ESP).
The Screenplay for Hearts in Atlantis was written by the phenomenal William Goldman. His works include the following:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (screenplay)
The Stepford Wives (screenplay)
All the Presidents Men (screenplay)
Marathon Man (novel)
The Princess Bride (novel and screenplay)
Goldman collaborated very well with director Scott Hicks (Shine). Goldman's writing is bolstered magnificently with Hick's imagery. Take an early scene for example. Hopkins tells a story about a powerful fullback, past his prime, who was called upon by his team to clinch a championship against all odds. While the scene is superbly narrated by Hopkins, we don't understand until later (with wonderful dramatic punch) why the story was told to begin with.
Likewise, the relationship between our young boy and girl is set up brilliantly by Goldman. Hicks has not one, but two bittersweet visual stunners to bolster Goldman's screenplay. The first scene involves a simple photograph and the angelic vision of the girl when the photo was taken. The second scene is a plot spoiler that I'm not willing to reveal.
Why 3 stars for Hearts in Atlantis? Obviously I admire the film a lot. Hearts in Atlantis is an Oscar potential for Hopkins. He effortlessly won me over. However, the movie has too many subplots and too many superfluous characters for my taste. Kudos for all involved. No one is at fault. The whole was simply not as good as the sum of its parts.