October 4, 2001

Lost in Atlantis

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The world might be a slightly better place if every book Stephen King wrote wasn’t immediately made into a movie. This is certainly the case with his latest, painfully corny adaptation, Hearts in Atlantis, starring Anthony Hopkins. The ability for quality dramatic writing King displayed in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption seems to have evaporated. In its place is the sort of maudlin, uninspired drivel that aims for the audience’s tear-ducts, and nothing more.

The film’s action takes place at some vaguely identified point during the McCarthy era, as remembered in flashback by the aged protagonist Bobby Garfield (David Morse). His young incarnation (Anton Yelchin) is the typical boy-without-father, stewing in the absence of a patriarch and the neglect of his overworked mother. That is until the mysterious Ted Brautigan (Hopkins) shows up. He and Bobby quickly bond, and we learn that Brautigan is on the run from some mysterious agency, staffed only by shady men in fedoras and trench coats who love walking slowly through mist.

Apparently these men are after Brautigan for his psychic ability, which occasionally manifests itself by causing him to stare blankly into space and mutter mysteriously about nothing. Bobby also seems to possess some hint of this ability, though it is never fully explored and seems rather pointlessly tacked on. Bobby agrees to keep a sharp lookout for these trench-coated goons (G-men, Mafiosos, whatever), and the telltale missing pet signs they post in neighborhoods to communicate with each other. Okay.

The film is bereft of anything original from the very beginning, when our narrator is taken into a quasi-Proustian flashback by a baseball glove he receives in the mail. These reflections on childhood are tired ideas, made all the less appealing by the substantial flow of rehashed film conventions director Scott Hicks employs. Where is the genuine, human emotion we saw in his 1996 film Shine? It’s been replaced by tear-jerk emotional prostitution and boring fractal cinematography.

One of the film’s major problems comes from the stale dialogue stuffed in Hopkins’ mouth. His character seems to speak only in meaningless aphorisms, intended to strike viewers with profundity, but really striking them only with nausea. He gushes about the beauty of childhood and childhood love, but such meaningless stock sentiments make one wonder if screenwriter William Goldman was originally an employee of the Hallmark Corporation.

Is this a film about the paternal relationship that develops between a lonely boy and a lonely man, or is it the tale of a psychic on the run from the forces of evil? Try as Hicks might, the two don’t seem to blend well. The psychic fantasy element seems pointless; the emotional exploration seems artificial.

Hopkins himself performs proficiently, granted what he is given to work with. We can’t help but feel a little warm as he becomes a surrogate father for lonely young Bobby. It’s impossible to be totally turned off by his entrancing English-accented voice. Even so, perhaps he wasn’t the best casting choice for the role. His sedate nature is sometimes creepy, making him a better choice to play a quietly calm psychopath than a fugitive who can stay in no place for more than a few weeks. It’s not in his nature to display that man-on-the-run desperation. And honestly, I can’t help but expect him to, at any moment, lick his lips and start devouring everyone on screen.

Somewhere in Hopkins’ shadow there are other actors — Hope Davis is somewhat convincing as Bobby’s frustrated and distant mother, struggling to overcome the debt left by her deceased husband. Other child actors include Mika Boorem and Will Rothhaar, as Bobby’s first love-interest and his best friend, respectively. Like the adult actors in the film, they seem capable, but bogged down by a script that never should have been put on paper, let alone the big screen.

This movie aims for our tear ducts, but misses badly. Consequently, it may be one of the most pointless films of this year. Why was this film ever made? Why did Hopkins agree to be in it? Perhaps someday I’ll have a sagacious psychic of my own who can provide me with all the quick answers. Until then, I’ll put these questions out of mind, which is where this movie belongs.

Archived article by Kiah Beverly