Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Really looking forward to this one. Admittedly, I'm going to try to be cautiously optimistic after reading this rather muted review by the blueman, who just weighed in on MADE and TIME AND TIDE last week. Still... it's Scott Hicks, Anthony Hopkins, and William Goldman working from a pretty damn good Stephen King novella. I know Goldman's already been signed to adapt DREAMCATCHER, King's newest novel, and I can't wait to see how he handles some of that book's riskiest visual metaphors. Anyway... here's the word from tonight's top-secret NRG screening. Sorry, Joe...
Caught a super-sneak preview of Scott Hicks' new film, Hearts in Atlantis, with a script by William Goldman and starring Anthony Hopkins. From part of the collection of the same name by Stephen King (which I have not read). Saw it at an extraordinarily strict and militant NRG screening in La Canada, which to someone living in LA, is frankly the middle of fucking nowhere...I had to take the 2 freeway to get there, and I almost had a stroke, it was so empty (at rush hour!)...this is not the southern california I know and love...where's the traffic?!
They let us in early, which was nice of them, considering their harsh glares and their forcing us to take loyalty oaths. While we were entering the theater, William Goldman arrived at the theater. Not bad...shortly before the feature started, the guy next to me mentioned seeing Scott Hicks in the hall. Not bad at all. And of course, there was the taped off seat with the initials AH...(not that I saw Hannibal in person, unfortunately...I would've demanded my money back for Instinct, notwithstanding the many films he's appeared in which didn't make me want to vomit).
They informed us that this was actually the FIRST screening of this film for an audience, and indeed, it was the actual workprint of the film, no titles, temp music, no color correction, bad splices and all.
With the film's pedigree, you can understand we were pretty much hyped going in...I mean, I could give or take Scott Hicks, I didn't see Snow Falling on Cedars and didn't like Shine, but William Goldman! On a Stephen King film! Starring Anthony Hopkins! That's about as sure a thing as you can get from Hollywood these days. Visions of Misery and Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me danced in my head as the lights went down.
Which made it all the more disappointing that Hearts in Atlantis is just an okay film. Not bad at all, just not the classic I was expecting/hoping for. And it's not really the filmmaker's fault. Well, more on that later, let's get into the plot.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse), a middle-aged photographer, receives a package in the mail. Inside, a baseball mitt with the name SULLY penned upon it, and an unfortunate letter telling Garfield of the death of one of his dearest childhood friends. Garfield, his family away on vacation, decides to go to the funeral, and asks about another friend of his from boyhood, his first girlfriend Carol. She too has passed on, a fact which hits Garfield like a ton of bricks. He goes back to the house where he grew up, and relives a story of his youth through his mind's eye.
The young Bobby, played by Anton Yelchin, wants nothing but a Scwinn Black Phantom bicycle. Unfortunately, for his birthday, his mother gives him a library card. "An Adult Library Card," she points out. Bobby's father has passed on several years ago, leaving Bobby's mother (Hope Davis) with (she claims) a pile of bills. He was no good, she grumbles. Bobby's life basically consists of playing with his good friends Sully and Carol, and pining away at the Schwinn Black Phantom from behind the glass of the bike shop.
His life takes a better turn, however, when a mysterious stranger, Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves into the apartment upstairs. Bobby's mother dislikes him immediately, and when he hires Bobby to read the paper every day, she immediately suspects he's a pedophile. But we know there's something more...Bobby's reading the paper to Brautigan is a front for his real activities, which is to keep an eye out for what Brautigan calls "Low Men." Hoods in dark clothes, drive flashy cars, who travel in packs, and leave messages disguised as Lost Pet notices. You see, the Low Men are after Brautigan, for a particular ability of his...
The acting is decent all around, with particular emphasis on Hopkins. His Brautigan is intriguing, and frankly the main flaw of the film is that we hardly learn anything about him! He's a cypher from beginning to end, and his backstory (and that of the low men) is only hinted at.
Instead, the film centers around a young Bobby, played well by Anton Yelchin. Yelchin is a good actor, but unfortunately the story is too dependent on his character, and to ask a young actor to carry such a film basically on his own is unreasonable. He and Carol, played by Mika Boorem (did this film have the same casting director as Along Came a Spider or something? Otherwise it's a rather odd coincidence they'd be in films together back to back) are good, but they can't quite deliver all the dialogue Goldman gives them, and they have trouble playing off Hopkins, in my opinion.
Hope Davis, so great in Mumford, has a difficult character to play here. Her Elizabeth Garfield, Bobby's mother, is basically unlikeable throughout most of the film. Selfish, vain, and uncaring, she takes her son for granted and unfairly badmouths his dead father. She received her fair share of hisses in the film. Her character undergoes a transition at the end, and it's to her credit as an actress that she pulls it off and makes it believable.
David Morse, as the adult Bobby, is instantly sympathetic. Morse, like he did in Contact, manages to vividly portray his character in a very small number of scenes. He serves as a narrator, sort of (there's little actual narration) and like Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By me, his scenes bookend the film.
The film is short, under two hours, but still managed to play fairly slowly. I didn't mind the pace of the film, I just wish it had been filled with more period detail. Hicks doesn't give us a real sense of the time and place, we see very few locations, and unless it's at Bobby's house or The Corner Pocket (the gambling den where Anthony Hopkins bets on sports) we don't really know where the characters are, geographically speaking.
I find it a bit difficult to sum up my dissatisfation with this film. I think it centers around my belief that they were telling the wrong story. I frankly didn't care too much about Bobby's coming of age (it's been done before, and better, such as in, oh, Stand by Me and even Telling Lies in America), I was interested in the understated scenes of Hopkin and the Low Men. The Low Men never felt like much of a threat in the film, in fact the primary villain seems to be Bobby's mom! There's a horrible bully that picks on Bobby and Carol, but he's hardly in the film, and when he reappears to do more mischief, it's always a surprise. The supernatural aspect of the story is underplayed to a deleterious effect, it is the single most interesting part of the story. The Low Men hardly appear, inspire no dread, and frankly seem just your average Men In Black (but Will Smith was scarier). I frankly don't understand why they even made this film, why they felt compelled to spend millions of dollars on it.
All in all a disappointment, which I freely admit was more a case of heightened expectations on my part. I'm sure the majority of you upos seeing this film in its eventual release will enjoy it, just try not to oversell yourselves. This isn't Stand By Me, or Shawshank Redemption, or even the Green Mile. Worth seeing, but not anything special.