If there is one thing that everyone must know about Stephen King, it is that he has an amazing ability to explore the supernatural, which is oftentimes frightening, as his countless novels reveal. Despite his reputation being cast into the horror/thriller genre, some of his work proves otherwise (“The Green Mile”), where paranormal tendencies are secondary to the more comforting lessons of love, faith and friendship. Thus “Hearts in Atlantis,” directed by Scott Hicks and based on King”s novel, also disproves a stereotype by instilling tension in far more subtle and touching ways.
The story begins when Robert Garfield (David Morse) attends a friend”s funeral. His friend John Sullivan, known as “Sully,” was one of his best friends from childhood and also a Vietnam veteran. After learning the news that his other childhood companion, Carol Gerber, had passed away, he wanders back to his hometown and old house, struck with bittersweet memories of his past. The story then fades in to about thirty years ago, where the same Bobby (Anton Yelchin) lived with his mother (Hope Davis).
The story has a great pace, neither lingering too long nor rushing through crucial character development. Not only is Bobby”s friendship with the new upstairs neighbor, Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), convincing, his relationship with his overly suspicious and selfish mother is intriguing and strengthens the foundation of the entire plot.
In addition, his friendship with Carol is believable, and although there is a little bit of a love story involved (she was his first kiss), their relationship does not cross the line into cheesiness or detract the audience from other important elements.
Anthony Hopkins delivers an excellent performance as a somewhat mysterious, yet genuine and kindhearted man. After moving into the upstairs apartment, Mr. Brautigan, insisting on being called Ted, quickly appeals to Bobby. Without a father (he passed away), Bobby finds himself happy and secure in Ted”s presence. Soon learning about his strange tendencies, however, such as recalling things about Bobby before being told, Bobby realizes there is something larger to learn.
Being somewhat employed by Ted, Bobby receives $1 a week to read him the paper because of his eyesight, but more importantly, to keep an eye out for strange looking men and clues that would indicate that Ted is being pursued by some “bad people.”
Yelchin also does a great job with his role. The cute, innocent-eyed boy adds important elements to his character, revealing Bobby”s confidence, intelligence and wit. The 11-year-old gives several lighthearted wisecracks, leaving the audience with a smile. In fact, there is not one actor that does a less than great job in the film.
Sully”s role, however, is virtually absent, which doesn”t make much sense since his death was the foil leading into the entire story. Although the times shared between Bobby and Carol were stirring, if Sully was so important, perhaps it should have been Carol”s funeral instead. Despite this small initial flaw, it is the story between Ted and Bobby that is most important.
After learning Ted”s secret (I will not spoil this for you), Bobby soon realizes that Ted will have to leave. This sad moment is a usual tear-inducing turning point (obvious from my own drippy nose and the many watery eyes around me), yet it is not merely a ploy to invoke emotional reaction.
It really is sad, and one can”t help but feel compassion for Bobby, who, at such a young age, has had to deal with so very much: The death of his father, a judgmental mother who doesn”t “trust” Ted and now the parting of a special friend who he will never see again.
Although the ending is sad, life still goes on, and as Ted says to Bobby, “We”re all just passing through, kiddo.” This simple thought is a nice place to end, or begin or simply emphasize that each moment in life is so precious and must be held dear in our hearts.