Hearts in Atlantis


  • Sir Tony
  • Stephen King's Innocence
  • Visual Flourishes
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Directed by Scott Hicks "It's Okay, Bobby. I cried during Hardball, too"

Scott Hicks Cuts King's Prose to the Bone and Finds a Beautiful Tale of Childhood

     In junior high, I read Stephen King almost exclusively. At the time, there was something very appealing about the way his words pulled terror and dread off of normal day anxieties. It could have been puberty (Carrie), sex (Gerald's Game) or even outsiders (Needful Things); it didn't matter because he knew where the boogeymen hid in almost every situation. But King does have a tendency to carry on for chapters upon chapters. And it could get really ugly.I recall my personnal breaking point was the twelve pages in The Stand which were devoted to the self-cannibalization of rabbits. Later, in my senior year of college, I began to re-visit his books and found that I could dig deeper into the junk and find a moments that didn't just examine good versus evil, but found the greater conflict of the lost versus the innocence.

    Fortunately, in the process of adapting these books to the screen, there have been a few artists who have understood this as well and have taken liberty in peeling off the fat. Most prominently in this group is screenwriter William Goldman, who penned Stand by Me, Misery, and now Hearts in Atlantis. While Rob Reiner-who directed the first two-was certainly fantastic, Scott Hicks, whose penchancy for visuals over dialogue did well by him in Shine and Snow Falling on Cedars, proves to be all up for the task. Hearts in Atlantis tells the story of Bobby O. (Anton Yelchin) who lives in a small Connecticut town circa 1960. When he's not hanging out with his friends, he's reading the paper to the tennant living in the attic. His name is Ted Brannigan (Anthony Hopkins) and it seems that he has other-worldly powers. In a lesser adaption, the film would have focused on Ted's ability and his attempt to allude the authorities. Here though, Ted becomes the mentor to young Bobby and shows him the loops of going from childhood to manhood.

     Hearts in Atlantis understands what it means to remember all the good and all the bad about being a kid. Just look at the way Hicks frames the moments between Bobby and his first love. They run through the forest with the aged pine trees brushing the wisdom of the ages against their young faces. One of the best scenes in the whole film involves the two getting stuck on a stalled ferris wheel. Most films about adolescence seem to brush off a first kiss as something that will soon be irrelevant to the character's lives. This film lingers over the kiss like it is the moment that will be the standards for all other romantic moments. If it doesn't make anyone think of their first kiss and what it meant at the time, then they're still probably practicing with blow-up dolls. On the flip side, the film also examines how the relationship between a child and an adult can be tainted by those who truly do not understand its innocence. Bobby's mother (Hope Davis) allows her self-absorption to greatly disrupt  Ted's life and the story allows this to have a devastating, yet poignant impact on the story.

     And none of this would work if it were not for the cast. Every time I think Sir Tony has shown all of his acting tricks, he reaches up his sleeve and pulls out a few more. With Ted, Hopkins shows a vulnerability and a sorrow that will surely propel this performance into the pathos of Hannibal Lecter and Richard Nixon. He also has a gentle raport  with young Mr. Yelchin who clearly has no trouble keeping up with the Oscar-winner, even at such a young age. This is the key to the whole film, and the relationship echos throughout the rest of the film. It wouldn't be a great surprise if both get nominated, and it's an even greater accomplishment in such a visually-driven film.

     So, take a first rate cast and put them in the hands of a skilled director and the result is a Stephen King film that outshines the original intentions of the author. Hearts in Atlantis captures the innocence of childhood and the innocence of the early 1960's while undertanding that such emotions can still feel supernatural. The film is a beautiful achievement and ranks in the top five of King's works on film. All of this and it doesn't even need any pig blood.

The Pitch:
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2 Green Mile's
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Tony performing his one man revue of Truman Capote Tonite!