Hearts in Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis (12)

WHEN fatherless Bobby Garfield makes friends with his mother’s odd, middle-aged lodger, he is propelled into a brave new world of discovery where nothing is what is seems and no one is who they appear to be.

His new pal, Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), is secretive, mysterious, sagelike and gentle. He hides himself away from the wider world, emerging just enough to catch up on the news, observe Bobby’s growing pains and seek to cure them.

That he has something to hide is obvious; exactly why he urges young Bobby to report any strangers in the neighbourhood – particularly men in dark suits and hats – becomes increasingly clear.

In Hearts in Atlantis Stephen King explores the familiar themes of youth, puberty, knowledge and love in another flashback to 1960s Americana that he first delved into in his novella The Body, filmed as Stand by Me.

The story, scripted by William Goldman, progresses at a measured pace as Bobby (played like a Waltons family cast-off by Anton Yelchin) digs beneath Ted’s skin and the old man lets slip fragmentary slivers of information about his background and fear of discovery.

Paranoid and neurotic, or genuinely fearful of some hidden threat? Goldman’s screenplay takes us into Ted’s world via his blooming father-son relationship with Bobby, while the boy’s bitter, self-obsessed mother looks on with the baleful gaze of a woman who resents her child for keeping her from the men she desires in her life.

And so Bobby turns increasingly to Ted. One incident sums up their burgeoning relationship; as Ted deals with the local bully, he turns to his young pal and smiles. “Just intellectual chit-chat between men of goodwill” he murmurs as the older boy retreats yelping.

Hopkins, so long a mainstay of Hollywood blockbusters, continues his route to becoming the British doyen of American pictures. Here he underplays with panache as a cool, softly spoken enigma, terrified of faceless men in dark suits and obviously on the fringes of madness.

Yet everyone should have the benefit of a wise old wizard like Ted – poet, sage and protector. That central relationship between man and boy is what carries along this film – a movie that examines loss and want, punctuated by frequent scenes of idyllic summer fun.

Bookended by a prologue and epilogue featuring the always excellent David Morse as the older Bobby, Hearts in Atlantis more than resembles the classic Alan Ladd western Shane in its construction and director Scott (Shine) Hicks piles on the emotional baggage throughout.

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