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Hearts in Atlantis

Fans of Stephen King's books are fond of such movies as The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, and The Green Mile, as they were adapted from tales that illustrated King to be more than a horror novelist and simply a superb storyteller. Likewise, Hearts in Atlantis (2001) is sourced from a King work — but while it has all of the right ingredients, it somehow falls short of a compelling, coherent film. Antony Hopkins stars as Ted Brautigan, a mysterious older man who becomes the upstairs neighbor of young widow Elizabeth Garfield (Hope Davis) and her precocious 11-year-old son Bobby (Anton Yelchin) in 1960 Bridgeport, Conn. The self-absorbed, high-strung Elizabeth immediately distrusts Ted, but the fatherless Bobby soon latches on to his charming neighbor. Ted even begins paying Bobby a dollar a day to read him the newspaper — something Elizabeth also does not like, but reluctantly allows. However, before long Bobby notices that Ted's a bit different than other folks. Sure, he's educated and recites literature, and he tells wonderful stories. But he also goes into trances and black-outs. Even worse, Ted asks Bobby to watch the town for "low men," nefarious people who eventually will arrive and attempt to take the elderly man away. Before long Bobby figures out that Ted has psychic abilities, and a newspaper article he finds indicates that the "low men" looking for Ted are in fact federal agents with a secret task. Hearts in Atlantis is filled with many great touches — the film is framed by an older Bobby Garfield, played by David Morse, who finds himself suddenly engrossed in this unusual part of his past; the small Connecticut town is sentimentally portrayed by director Scott Hicks, and child actors Anton Yelchin and Mika Boorem, as girlfriend Carol, manage not to strike too many false notes; and Hope Davis is simultaneously abrasive and sympathetic as the histrionic Elizabeth, who must raise a son alone while hoping to advance in her career. But Anthony Hopkins seems miscast as a runaway loner, and is almost too sophisticated for the part of Ted Brautigan. Even worse, the script (by William Goldman) lacks a narrative drive, revealing only small parts of the mystery over a long stretch of time. Many of King's best-known elements can be found here, but The Dead Zone is a far more gripping tale of a supernatural wanderer, while Stand By Me is a more coherent look at childhood. King fans will want to see Hearts in Atlantis, if only for the sake of comparison, but it fails to match the high expectations that it inevitably generates. Warner's DVD release features a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Features include a commentary track with director Hicks, an interview with Hopkins, a stills gallery, and a trailer. Snap-case.

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