Hearts in Atlantis (12)

Review by Jack Foley

Screen adaptations of Stephen King books seem to work best when they don't take the author's horror stories as inspiration.

With the exception of Kubrick's The Shining, very few of his chillers warrant much screen attention, whereas cinema versions of work such as Misery, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me have rightly become regarded as classics.

Hearts in Atlantis, based on King's acclaimed 1999 collection of interconnected stories of the same name, may not reach the giddy heights of the Shawshank, for example, but it is a better than average coming-of-age tale which does not squander the talent of its central star.

The story is based on the first novella of King's collection, Low Men In Yellow Coats, and the final short story, Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling, and begins in present day America, as David Morse's Bobby Garfield hears of the death of a childhood friend.

The news beckons him back to the town of his upbringing where, during his 11th summer in 1960, his eyes were first awakened to the bigger and darker world around him by the arrival of a mysterious lodger (Anthony Hopkins's Ted Brautigan).

Ted quickly becomes a father figure to the young and impressionable Bobby (played by Anton Yelchin), but their friendship is constantly threatened by the suspicions of the child's self-obsessed, widowed mother (played by Hope Davis) and by Ted's own past, which is about to catch up with him.

Directed by Scott (Shine) Hicks, Hearts in Atlantis is the type of movie which offers more than it ultimately delivers but which remains curiously entertaining throughout.

Hopkins, in particular, is wonderfully under-stated as the mysterious but gifted Ted, shying away from the showy histrionics of his Lecter persona, while his relationship with the young Yelchin is nicely played, evoking memories of Shane.

A sub-plot involving Yelchin's burgeoning relationship with one of his two best friends, Mika Boorem's delightful Carol, is also well-handled, capturing the innocence of young love, but too many other of the integral characters suffer at the hands of the film's tight running time.

Will Rothhaar, as Bobby's other childhood friend - whose death marks the catalyst for the story - is given precious little screen time to suggest why their friendship meant so much, while a major plot strand involving Bobby's mother seems rushed and somewhat redundant.

Hicks's direction is also, at times, too pedestrian, and may alienate audiences, while there is the feeling throughout that a lot of King's original text is missing. The film is neither as affecting nor as emotional as Stand By Me, to which it can be compared.

But for those willing to give it a chance, there are enough moments to admire, with some telling asides about life and missed opportunities that will no doubt strike a chord with the more mature audiences.