And so it was supposed to begin. Three-quarters of the way into the year without a serious Oscar hopeful. Marky Mark for best actor with his brave performance as an ape-battling astro-stud? Ha ha. Not so funny.
But as September ends and Oscar season begins, this is about the time that something good — no, something great, is to be expected. Something stellar and inspiring in the way “The Insider” was. The way some say “American Beauty” was. The way “The Hurricane” was supposed to be. Marked with the brand of Stephen King, why would we expect anything short of “Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile” when it comes to “Hearts in Atlantis?”
But how quickly we forget that there are, in essence, two kinds of Stephen King movies: his endearing, more serious shots at screenwriting, usually dealing with the slightly but not overtly abnormal; and then there are his television horror movies — scary not because they’re meant to be, but because they are just that bad.
“Hearts in Atlantis” wants very badly to belong to the former group, but struggles to shed the amateurish, TV movie qualities of the latter.
Not to take any shots at the production — the direction is, at times, brilliant. “Hearts” treats lighting playfully, incorporating reflections, direct sunlight and prism-like characteristics rather artistically. The cinematography is equally as mischievous, using silhouette shadows to create an eerie feeling towards some of the seedier, unknown characters.
Similarly, the performances here are generally adequate at the least, with Anthony Hopkins (“Hannibal”) delivering a fine supporting performance from start to finish. Were the script to allow us to enjoy him as much as we want to, his wise old ways would become tiresome, so there seems to be a fine-tuned balance to his character. Awkwardly enough, Hopkins’ greatest achievement in the film may be his silence. Whereas “Hannibal” suffered through his overbearingness, “Silence of the Lambs” excelled with this subdued demeanor.
Surprisingly, the film struggles mostly in its pacing and ability to utilize key dramatic moments for all their worth. Why surprising? Because King wrote it, of course. In short, despite its contextually thick and rapid-fire finish, there is little dramatic payoff. Moments meant to elicit reactions of inhumane horror barely register a “woah,” and it’s hard to care all too much when it’s all over.
“Hearts in Atlantis” — whose title goes completely unexplained throughout the entire movie — deals with a care-free, swinging-on-ropes-over-rivers, bicycle-craving youth in the American ’60s. You know the kind. He keeps his life savings in a tobacco tin, thinks baseball is life, plays tiddly-winks, and if he had a bike, he’d put baseball cards in its wheels. King seems to have a firm grasp on this moment in American history and has created some of the more memorable ’60s youths with “Stand By Me” and now “Hearts.”
Bobby O (Anton Yelchin, “Along Came a Spider”), as his preoccupied mother calls him, spends his days frolicking along riverbeds and carnival grounds with his two childhood chums, Carol and Sully-John. Somehow, in between milkshakes and checkers, Booby takes notice of Ted Brautigan (Hopkins), the shady old man who rents out the upstairs apartment, and Brautigan, in turn, Ted takes notice of Bobby. The two form a sort of Harold and Maude friendship, with Bobby’s mother starting to question just how close of friends the two are.
As Bobby spends more time with Ted, he begins to take greater notice of his long, motionless “moments.” We’ve all had moments. Something caught our eye and as we gazed in mysterious awe it took someone’s snap of a finger to wake us out of it. Brautigan spends nearly half the movie stuck in a “moment” and Bobby slowly picks up on the mystical powers associated with the lapses — first when he scares off a would-be bully, and later when he wins an absurd amount of money on a long-shot boxing wager.
Warned of the mysterious Lo-Men out to get Ted, Bobby struggles with the morality of sheltering the run-away. Only after he and his mother essentially betray the fugitive do they truly understand him. There’s something here that feels very “E.T.”-ish, but we are more reminded of King’s last effort, “The Green Mile,” which told the same story with a greater effect.