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In writing my review of Hearts In Atlantis, I had intended to say something to the effect of: this film may not capture your heart, but it won’t leave you wishing you’d sunk to the bottom of the ocean with the rest of Atlantis. However, between seeing the film and writing this review, I had the good judgment, or perhaps good sense to see a wonderful film called Ghost World. And somewhere, between the theatre and these pages, I suddenly find the problems of Hearts in Atlantis crystallized into a large and unavoidable pile of rubble.
Hearts in Atlantis begins as another one of those sickening coming of age stories. You know the ones. The now grown man wanders about, thinking about the good old days when he was a kid… then suddenly we’re there, watching him and his screaming brat friends running around doing the things that kids did before the invention of video games; things which for some reason always seem to involve bicycles. Enter the wise old man, who while he at first seems like a child molester, eventually turns out to be a kindly and caring person, interested in guiding and shaping the minds of children he barely even knows. In this case, the kindly old man is Anthony Hopkins, who as it turns out, also happens to be psychic.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter anyway. I suspect the whole psychic power thing was just thrown in as filler. Really any old power would have done; hell, could have substituted some sort of mental illness or retardation as well. The point is it gives us a reason for the old guy to leave against his will and hurt the kid, and that’s all we’re really going for here. In contrast to the kind but creepy old man, is the single mother, unable to cope with being a widow, and apparently incapable of loving her child. And so the deck is stacked, forced to choose between a bitchy, self-righteous mother, or a creepy old man with cool psychic powers, our hero young Bobby naturally gravitates toward the only adult figure in his life that doesn’t hate him. And then the film’s writer suffered a fatal heart attack.
Heart attack is really the only explanation. Because once this is established the film turns ugly, and seems not only to lose interest in its audience, but in its characters as well. Hearts is NOT a plot heavy story. The story is merely a backdrop for character interaction and superficially touching moments. But just when we start to figure out what makes these characters tick, they are suddenly abandoned to a series of mostly pointless and wholly uninteresting events. Suddenly, we are reminded there is some sort of plot in the background here, and even though we don’t care about it, hey maybe we should take a look at it, and oh isn’t that boring, here lets throw in a few new things like bullies and kissing to keep you awake… what I’m sorry I fell asleep five minutes ago. The best explanation is that the writers got tired of writing. At some point they decided to stop trying to take the film somewhere and instead mill about in a mildly interesting fashion to try and avoid attracting flies.
Characters! It’s about the characters!!! Its clear ten minutes in that there isn’t much story here, the only thing worth looking at is the characters! So why are we running around worrying about the FBI chasing psychics? Or rather why aren’t we worrying? Because even though there is some sort of supposed danger, no one really seems all that concerned about it.
The best moments of this film are spent listening to Anthony Hopkins recite coy phrases stolen from some of history’s best authors. So touching and profound is his recitation, that in those moments, one can almost believe this is a good film. But when he stops speaking, you awaken from your reverie to discover you are having a good time only because Hopkins has a soothing voice.
Your money might be better spent purchasing a well-narrated book on tape.