Bobby Garfield gets a library card instead of a bicycle for his eleventh birthday.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) is a photographer in his fifties living with his family. One day a package arrives in the mail. Inside is an old baseball glove, from his childhood friend Sully (Will Rothhaar), sent by his attorney because he has just passed away, and the glove was left to Bobby in his will. The glove brings back a flood of memories from his youth and when he returns to the Connecticut town where he used to live to attend the funeral, he inquires about his other long lost friend, Carol (Mika Boorem) who he sadly discovers is also dead. After the service he returns to his now abandoned childhood home, and the movie flashes back to the early 1960s when they were all eleven years old. In those days Bobby (Anton Yelchin) lived with his widowed mother Liz (Hope Davis) but their family relationship was strained. Liz spent most of her time concerned about her own appearance, acquiring new clothes, and being preoccupied with her office job while generally neglecting Bobby. Liz felt that her late husband somehow abandoned them, and that their current lower middle class income and life style were due to his gambling and desires to have fun when he was alive. A good example of their relationship occurred on Bobby’s eleventh birthday, when she gave him a library card instead of the bicycle that he desperately wants. It is an adult library card, she points out, but Bobby isn’t quite ready to be an adult yet, when he would rather ride around town on a new bike. She also calls later and cancels their date to go out to dinner, because she has to “work late at the office.” Luckily for Bobby, he has his good friends, and they quickly help him to forget the neglectful treatment by his mother because they have such a great time playing with each other.
Carol, Bobby, and Sully are best friends.
To help ends meet, Liz has decided to take on a boarder, and suddenly Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) appears at their doorstep. From the beginning Ted is a mystery man with some strange baggage of his own. In some ways he is a gentleman, showing off education and excellent insights into life, although when he first appears Liz doesn’t like the fact that he has some of his belongings in a paper bag. While Liz doesn’t like having a man with real self-possession around, Bobby is thrilled to have a male father-figure in the house — someone who offers him root beers and real conversation about important topics of life. Soon Bobby is enlisted to help Ted out, earning a dollar a week to read the newspaper to him because his eyesight is failing, and also to help look out for the “low men”, Ted’s mysterious enemies who are always in pursuit of him because of his “gift”. Quickly it is revealed that Ted’s gift is his psychic abilities which soon have impact on the lives of all of the people surrounding him. It would spoil the impact of the film to reveal these insights, which affect every major character in the story. Ted turns out to be a very amazing person with his ability to reveal the truth about people he meets and these insights are instrumental in turning Bobby’s life around and giving him self confidence. At the same time, in the cold war mentality of the era, Ted’s powers are considered dangerous by the government or the mob, although it is never revealed who exactly is in hot pursuit: the FBI for his ability to understand the dark secrets of people or the mob because he can predict the results of events that people bet on. Part of Bobby’s coming of age is learning that in the real world people with extraordinary gifts or unconforming beliefs are often considered threats.
Bobby argues with his mother.
Hearts in Atlantis is based on a Stephen King story and has some familiar themes present in King’s writing. This story is similar to others like Stand By Me or It, where adults flash back to important moments in their adolescent years that helped shape them, bullies or evil forces threaten the idyllic existence of kids, and people with special powers pay a price for having them. Although there aren’t the elements of horror like you see in most King’s work, there still is a dark side to the story, never fully explained that keeps the viewer on edge in spite of all the nostalgia. This mysterious atmosphere is maintained throughout most of the film and greatly enhanced by the cinemaphotography of Piotr Sobocinski. Although we see Ted Brautigan’s character as it relates to Bobby and his world, we are only given glimpses of Ted’s world and why he is on the lam from the “dark men”. Ted’s character is there to articulate the changes starting to occur in Bobby’s life, like when he explains the importance of reading literature, leadership in sports, and standing up for your beliefs, or that Bobby’s first kiss with Carol will be the one that all others in his life are judged by. One of the main strengths of this film is the fine acting performances that make the principal characters believable. Anthony Hopkins is great as the world-worn man, seeking temporary refuge in the simple neighborhood of Bobby Garfield. Through his psychic powers, Ted Brautigan knows the worst about the outside world and what his ultimate fate will be, but chooses to work as a positive force in Bobby’s world while he can. Anton Yelchin continues to impress as one of our most promising young actors, demonstrating both intellect, emotion, and street smarts in the way he portrays young Bobby. Hope Davis gives a well-nuanced performance as Bobby’s self-absorbed mother; hers is a very prickly character and hard to understand at first. In some ways she is the villain in the film, but also a victim of bad circumstances in her relationships with men, yet we can still see that there is a mother-son bond that somehow survives. Most eleven-year-old boys would love to have a girl friend like Carol Gerber, as played by Mika Boorem. She gives her character sweetness and emotional truth that are very endearing to the audience. Director Scott Hicks tends to emphasis the nostalgia over the action. This is seen in the slow pace of the film and in the original musical score which continually uses a lot of light piano, clarinet and flute. Ultimately Hearts in Atlantis leaves the viewer somewhat unsatisfied, partly because of how the story ends, but also because the eleven-year-old kids never reunited as adults. But maybe that’s the real message of the film: although you can go back to the place where you grew up, you can never truly recapture the life that you had then.
Events rapidly come to a crisis point for Bobby and Carol after Sully and his family go off for a long weekend.
Sully, Carol, and Bobby enjoy the freedom of summer.
Anton Yelchin in his role as Bobby Garfield wears black low cut chucks throughout most of the film, and his friend Sully wears black high top chucks. Part of the fun of growing up is the freedom to play that you have during summer vacations. The best chucks scene in Hearts in Atlantis is when we first see the three friends going off by themselves to play at the nearby river.
Sully climbs on the rocks by the creek.
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