Atlantis Sinks Hearts
Hopkins Drowns in Mediocre Performances, Script
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Starring Anthony Hopkins, David Morse, Hope Davis
When Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) says, "I wouldn't have missed a single minute of it, Bobby, not for the whole world," at the end of Hearts of Atlantis, one feels his sorrow, but only for the time lost watching this movie. Beautiful cinematography and powerful actors like Hopkins barely disguise the emptiness beneath this film’s glittering exterior.
Hearts in Atlantis is a coming-of-age film with a hint of the supernatural. During a fateful summer, young Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), who is neglected by his widowed mother, befriends a mysterious visitor named Ted. As the story unfolds, glimpses of Ted’s strange power gleam in the summer sunlight that illuminates half of the film. The other half contains long, pregnant silences that pretend to be deep and suspenseful.
Atlantis brings the watcher to the magical places that children find in summer happiness, and this is one of the only places where the film shines. Days of wonder in golden forests and young summer love fill the air with promise and hopes that are dashed in the scenes that follow.
The profound force Hopkins brings to the film bounces off poor performances and banal dialogue. Many of the scenes between Bobby and his childhood sweetheart (Mika Boorem, The Patriot) feel forced, as if the two are amateurs reading the script for the first time. The best part of David Morse's performance as the adult Bobby is the look on his face when Hopkins defines the word “flatulence” in a very vocal fashion.
Bobby's mother (Hope Davis) is one of the few characters that do not seem completely flat. She lies to Bobby about his dead father, completely distrusts Hopkins, and is completely self-absorbed. What little money the family has, she spends on herself, buying new dresses and giving her son a free library card for his birthday. She works in a terrible job with virtually no future, and her boss constantly hits on her. Her reactions to situations are the most realistic moments of the film, considering that everyone else is lost in a world in which seconds stretch to minutes, and even the vaguest statements carry immense meaning. While all the others are starry-eyed, pondering Ted’s truisms, she responds convincingly to her environment.
Some intriguing notions in the film deserve more exploration. Ted’s mental powers allow him to see others’ thoughts, as if through a window into their minds. Shadowy figures hunt him, apparently to harness this power to their own ends. His powers can pass to another person with a single touch, a peculiarity which brings about a brilliant carnival scene in which Bobby outwits a card shark. We are never told how long this “window of insight” lasts, or how he first discovered his abilities.
Hearts in Atlantis is betrayed by its script and actors. Writer William Goldman chose to forgo interesting technical details for endless, saccharin dialog. The few poignant moments don’t elevate the movie enough to make it worthwhile. Subplots weave in and out of the film, destroying the cohesion that is realized only through predictable motions. The only things a viewer takes from this film are the beautiful photography, and the feeling that he just lost two hours of his life.