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Movie Review

Hearts in Atlantis

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
1 hr. 41 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 28, 2001
Relevant Issues
Anthony Hopkins in “Hearts in Atlantis”
Featuring: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem, David Morse
Director: Scott Hicks
Producer: Kerry Heysen, Michael Flynn
Distributor: Warner Brothers

It has been reported by many professional sources that fatherlessness is a national epidemic. Drs. Kalter and Rembar at the children’s Psychiatric Hospital, University of Michigan has cited these findings. The following are their results from studying children without fathers:

Anton Yelchin in “Atlantis”
  • 63% have psychological problems.
  • 56% suffer academically.
  • 43% display aggression toward adults.
  • Fatherless girls also have a higher rate of teen pregnancy.
Many organizations, including Promise Keepers, are now trying to address this challenge. This social vacuum has created a growing need for mentors. Whether or not you are fatherless, a good mentor can have a positive impact on your life. The Summer 2001 edition of the “Leadership Journal” featured an article on how Howard Hendricks had been a constructive influence on the life of Charles Swindoll as a mentor. Mentoring has been a strong plot device in such films as the “Star Wars” Saga and my personal favorite, “Boys Town”.

“Hearts in Atlantis” is a compelling story of a fatherless boy, a single mom, and a mysterious boarder. This coming-of-age film unveils the power of a strong mentor in a child’s life. It is based on a collection of short stories by Stephen King. The collection is titled “Atlantis” and contains five stories. “Hearts in Atlantis” is a blend of two of them. Screenwriter William Goldman based most of the movie on the first story, “Low Men in Yellow Coats”. Goldman says, “I love King most when he’s not dealing with monsters but dealing with human monsters”. The press notes claim that Anthony Hopkins was reading a book by Goldman at the time he was contacted to do the film (maybe just some psychic hype).

Personally, I was looking forward to another film directed by Scott Hicks. He directed one of my favorite films of 2000, “Snow Falling On Cedars.” Most people know him for the movie “Shine.” Scott is never in a hurry with the story and always blends in some beautiful cinematography (by the late Piotr Sobocinski). I was not disappointed.

Our complex Atlantian metaphor begins with photographer Bobby Garfield (great to see ya, David Morse). He receives the news that an old friend has died. A childhood baseball glove is used to stir the memories of a promise made long ago. Bobby makes the decision to return to his hometown of Harwich, Connecticut. The audience watches the life of 11 year old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) grow up in the 60s through a long series of flashbacks. Hicks knows how to use this film device well. Mr. King (who also wrote “The Green Mile”) also likes to use this plot point.

Bobby’s retrospection includes some unpleasant views of his mother Elizabeth Garfield (Hope Davis). Liz, a self-centered mother, is struggling to make it in the world of real estate. She makes up for the lost income of her deceased husband by taking in boarders. Their lives both change when Liz takes in a peculiar lodger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins). Ted raises suspicions from mom (he shows up with in belongings in grocery sacks), but quickly earns Bobby’s trust.

Bobby has the desire to own a new bicycle and rests those hopes on his birthday. Mom delivers to Bobby an adult library card instead (ouch!). Ted quickly points out to Bobby what a wonderful gift that is. He also recommends some books for his attention.

Mr. Brautingan does provide Bobby an opportunity to earn the money instead. Our boy earns $1 a week for reading the newspaper to Ted (not a bad thing to encourage a child). He also must watch out for Low Men in yellow coats that are looking for his new friend. Bobby gets to learn, earn, and have an adventure. Brautingan reveals to the young adolescent that he has a gift. We observe that to be the power of a psychic. There is a powerful connection between these two because of this revelation. This plot point is not overdone. It is present more to create an atmosphere of tension and uneasiness. I do not believe it is compelling enough to encourage the audience to seek a New Age path.

Some close friends also enrich Bobby’s life. Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem) is the girl that Bobby will defend and also share a first kiss. Sully (Will Rothhaar) is Bobby’s best friend. There is a warm and inspirational friendship developed among this trio.

I really liked this film. I did not like our main character always smoking a cigarette (I still think the tobacco industry is chipping in on these films). I do think that the theme of mentoring is one worth exploring. It is an extremely intelligent drama. The PG-13 rating should be observed. There is a strong scene depicting an attempted rape and a child beats another with a baseball bat. I recommend that you leave the young and more impressionable at home. It would be my hope that the film would do more than entertain, but cause some to reach out and volunteer their time as a mentor. I am sure there is a fatherless child near you that could use a friend.

Viewer Comments
Positive—I felt that this movie was good, but not great. The good parts include the acting, characters’ friendship, and period setting. The story does has some touching moments, but I just felt that something was missing. I would recommend this movie, but go in knowing that this viewer gave it about a “B-” to “C” grade.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Rena, age 36
Neutral—…The movie itself was really good and there were some funny parts but it was really slow going. I like movies that move right along not ones that drag everything out. There were a few objectional parts but not many. They swore a couple of times and a lady got raped but you don’t see anything you just can tell by what happens. I don’t think anyone younger then 13 should see this but coming from me a 13 year-old I recommend you wait till it comes out on video!
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Kaitlyn, age 13
I thought this was a very good movie. There was very little objectionable material in it—the language was not perfect, but curse words were neither used for punctuation, nor were they used excessively in any portion. Unfortunately, there was an implied rape scene where the victim had bruises on her face. There was also a horrific abuse scene where an innocent person was beaten. The rest of the movie, however, was an excellent illustration of the awakening of a young boy to the existence of a larger world—a world in which there is wonder, safety, and the knowledge of good things. I don’t think small children (under 12) would appreciate this movie. It has themes which require adult understanding and appreciation. I believe that someone who has lived through childhood could get the most out of this movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Brian and Stacie, ages 32/30
I felt like this movie wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I feel like I would have been better off to watch the previews and then make up my own plot. Of course Anthony Hopkins gave a terrific performance as always, but that was the highlight of the movie. I feel the writers could have done much better to develop the plot and especially the character played by Hope Davis. The movie had some good themes including childhood sweethearts, friendship, and feelings of nostalgia, and some of the filming and scenes seemed reminiscent of movies like “My Girl” and “Stand By Me” but the script was so bad it didn’t really matter. I didn’t find the movie morally offensive. It didn’t have a lot of cursing, and no sex scenes. There was a psychic element to the movie which I found to be more stupid than offensive. I wouldn’t go see this movie again. If you want to see Anthony Hopkins act, rent “The Edge”. it’s awesome.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 2]
—Eric Scott Robertson, age 28
Movie Critics
Negative—…gets a negative acceptability rating because mind reading and psychic predictions are not endorsed biblically—only God knows our hearts and our future…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
Negative—…Strong New Age pagan worldview with grossly occult themes and false religion touting psychic powers…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide