Films adapted from Stephen King novels come in two types. The most obvious would be those based on his tales of the supernatural, which have historically varied in quality, with the goodwill of films such as "Carrie" and "The Green Mile" being sabotaged by the likes of "Children of the Corn" and "Thinner". However, the best Stephen King filmed adaptations have always come from the novels and short stories that dramatize the wondrous magic and heartbreaking tragedy of human experience, as in "The Shawshank Redemption", "Misery", and "Dolores Claiborne". The latest film to be inspired by the words of Stephen King, "Hearts in Atlantis", fits squarely in this second category, as it is a heartwarming look at the innocence of youth, the ties of friendship, and the things worth remembering.
In the present day, professional photographer Bobby Garfield (David Morse of "Proof of Life") receives news that his childhood friend, John Sullivan, has passed away. While attending the funeral, he is also informed that his childhood sweetheart, Carol Gerber, had passed away a few years prior. With the emotional ties to his youth buried, Bobby returns to the house he grew up in, which now stands abandoned and condemned, and reminisces about the last summer he spent there in 1962, when he had just turned 11.
Like many boys his age, young Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin of "Along Came a Spider") dreams of a new bike for his birthday. Unfortunately, his self-obsessed mother (Hope Davis of "Next Stop, Wonderland"), who would rather spend her meager earnings on lavish new dresses, gives Bobby a library card as a birthday present. However, the fact that it is an adult library card doesn't impress Bobby much, as he knows that the only reason why his mother gave it to him was because it was free. Fortunately, Bobby finds comfort in his two closest friends, Sully (Will Rothhaar) and most of all Carol (Mika Boorem of "The Patriot"), with whom Bobby first experiences true love.
That summer also brings a new person into Bobby's life, an enigmatic man named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins of "Hannibal") who rents a room upstairs. Ted's eyesight is failing, so he offers Bobby a dollar a week to read him the newspaper each day. Without missing a beat, the sharp Bobby realizes that the strange old man has another agenda, which Ted explains-- there are 'low men', shadowy figures in dark suits and flashy cars, on his trail who want something he has, and he needs Bobby to keep an eye out for them.
Over the next few months, through conversations and a number of shared experiences, Bobby comes to see Ted as a long-absent father figure, one who is always patient in dispensing advice and ready to impart some valuable life lessons. Ted also shares with Bobby a glimpse of the supernatural power he possesses, which opens the boy's eyes to the world around him, as well as the possibilities of the future. Unfortunately, as summer recedes into fall, so does Bobby's childhood innocence, as he must come to terms with the bullying of older kids, the misguided actions of his mother, and perhaps most difficult of all, the arrival of the 'low men'.
With the careful direction of Scott Hicks ("Shine") and the measured dialogue of scribe William Goldman ("The Princess Bride"), "Hearts in Atlantis" is awash in tenderness and nostalgia, similar in tone to "Stand By Me", another Stephen King adaptation from 1986. Hopkins brings his expected stately presence to the film with his portrayal of an ailing yet sensitive old man who takes the time to enrich the life of a young boy. However, the standout performances in this film belong to Yelchin and Boreem, particularly in their tender scenes at the carnival. Played with unmistakable earnestness and unparalleled chemistry, their portrayals of Bobby and Carol are credible and endearing, as these characters must endure the extremes between the bliss of first love and the anguish arising from disappointment and betrayal-- these are definitely two young actors to keep your eye on.
Each year, along with the arrival of autumn and the fall moviegoing season, comes the first wave of serious Oscar hopefuls. "Hearts in Atlantis" is one of the first films out of the gate and a welcome relief to the forgettable batch of teen-targeted movies and lame comedies of late. Told with great care and featuring some unforgettable performances, "Hearts in Atlantis" will probably be held in the same regard as the other Oscar-worthy Stephen King adaptations of the past, such as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile", as it is an elegant and eloquent memento of childhood innocence and lifelong influences.