Hearts in Atlantis Review

There are two kinds of Stephen King movies. The out and out horror and gore fests that are things like ‘Carrie’, ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Dead Zone’ and the more considered ‘drama’s like ‘The Green Mile’, ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. Of course if you look deeply at any of these films they all share elements and themes and each is as ‘supernatural’ or as ‘dramatic’ as the others.

In Hearts in Atlantis the director Scott Hicks (Snow Falling on Cedars, Shine) has unwisely decided to remove the supernatural element from this particular Stephen King story, which makes the otherwise wonderful story slightly lost and confusing…

The story is told in one long flash back though the memory of the grown-up Bobby Garfield (David Morse) as he attends the funeral of his childhood buddy, as he thinks back to ‘the last summer of his childhood’ and the strange events that shaped his adult self. He lives with his sharp, embittered mother (Hope Davis) and on his birthday meets the strange Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) who comes to live upstairs. He gets a job reading the newspaper and looking out for ‘strange things’ for Brautigan who obviously has a secret to hide.

In the novel, this secret turns out to be far more fantastic and strange (and also ties in with King’s Dark Tower series of books) but the effect it has on the people Ted meets is much the same in both novel and film. Bobby seeks a father figure and loves and trusts him, while his mother distrusts and is suspicious of him for much the same reason. It’s a tribute to the strength of both King’s and the screenwriter William Goldman’s writing that all of the characters manage to be well rounded and never fall into the realm of stereotype. This is especially evident in the character of the mother, who while doing some extremely nasty things, and behaving in a cruel manner most of the time never falls into being the ‘baddie’, for all she does wrong we can sort of see why.

The performances are all fairly solid, with Hope Davis really pulling off the acting honours in a very difficult and complex role. But the child actors are also a cut above the norm, and acquit themselves very well next to the heavyweight actors they play against. Both David Morse and Anthony Hopkins are as good as they always are, with the latter perhaps a little more muted than usual, but this could be because of the way the character is in himself.

The film is beautiful to look at and its themes of the passing of time and the loss of innocence are represented well with some beautiful autumnal and winter scenery that add well to the atmosphere and serve as a lasting epitaph to the cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, who died just after completing filming and who the film is dedicated to, as well as adding to the mood that Hicks creates throughout the film.

Where this film fails is in its explanation for Ted’s secret and its explanation and consequences. In the book the reasoning is far more far fetched but strangely more believable. But then as this film is really only an adaptation of the first part of the novel (which was more like a collection of novellas, of which this was the most compelling) ‘Low Men in Yellow Coats’. Where this film is strongest is in its depiction of the autumn of childhood and its special magic, the passing of innocence and the dreams we have to put aside as we grow into adulthood.


The film is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds good all the way through. The fifties music used sometimes echoes, feeling sometimes slightly haunting and fresh and bouncy at others, but then this fits in well with the mood of the film.


The picture is a 2.35:1 Anamorphic transfer and while a little grainy, this also adds well to the atmosphere of looking back on the past.


Other than the bog standard trailer, cast profiles and stills gallery (does anyone really bother watching these?!) the two main extras are a interview between Scott Hicks and Anthony Hopkins. This is interesting as Hicks genuinely seems to be interested in what Hopkins has to say, and asks questions that bring out a lot of memories and anecdotes from Hopkins and is far more revealing than the usual ‘puff’ media interviews that you often get as an extra.

The commentary by Hicks is a very relaxed one that draws mainly on the themes and motifs he has placed in the film and why. He does tend to repeat himself quite a lot, but he does have some interesting points to make (he even explains why he removed the supernatural elements, but not, to my opinion, very well!) and there are not many pauses. While it is good however you cant help but think how much better it could have been if they had gotten Hopkins, Goldman or even King involved.


This isn’t really going to go down in the same league as ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ or even ‘Stand by Me’ (which is the King adaptation it most wants to emulate). This was out to buy in R1 at least a month before its British cinema release which was delayed as it flopped in America, but as it really is better than a lot of dramas about that get a lot more critical praise. I cant see any reason for not giving it a chance either on DVD or at the cinema.

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out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:07:17

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