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Despite an A-list cast and Oscar-winning scripter, this latest Stephen King adaptation requires a commitment from the viewer.

Heavy 'Hearts'

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Like numerous other coming-of-age tales, from "Stand By Me" to "Simon Birch," "Hearts in Atlantis" is told in retrospect. Using the occasion of a boyhood friend's funeral, Robert Garfield (David Morse) begins a lengthy gaze back to the summer of 1960 when he was consumed with the usual preteen battle between childhood and adolescence.

For 11-year-old Robert (Anton Yelchin), Bobby to his pals, of course, the events of that summer are bittersweet. Not only the time of his first kiss — shared with neighbor Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem); it's also when he first saw the anger and frustration in his mother, Elizabeth (Hope Davis), unhappy with the hard truths of being a small-town, single mom with few prospects for true love heading her way.

But most importantly, it's the summer when the mysterious Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves in upstairs. Despite the vast difference in their ages, Ted and Bobby become fast friends. At first, the friendship is something of a business arrangement as Ted hires Bobby to do some odd jobs for him. The most intriguing job turns out to be keeping a sharp eye out for any "low men," who are apparently scouring the world for Ted. However, that's just the beginning of Ted's intriguing hold on Bobby. Nearly mesmerized by Ted's newness and strangeness, Bobby also soon discovers that Ted has the power to look deep into people's minds. It is that special talent that makes Ted a hunted man.

Unfortunately, all of this intriguing information — and the corresponding terrific performances by Hopkins, Yelchin and Davis — gets lost in the near-somnambulant pacing studiously adhered to by director Scott ("The Shine") Hicks. Consequently, "Hearts in Atlantis" never develops any kind of emotional or dramatic momentum to propel the story or our interest forward. Adding to the problem, Hicks tries to meld two different genres into one — the sepia-toned, nostalgia of a coming-of-age tale with the intimate story of one man's mysticism.

That lack of fusion is most deeply felt in the relationship between Bobby and Ted. Instead of becoming a real person to us, Ted often feels remote and unreal, as if he might have been a figment of Bobby's imagination. In turn, the powerful feelings the cloistered young man develops for Ted and his low-key mysticism seem contrived.

Now this does not mean "Hearts in Atlantis" is a total washout. Far from it. But rather it means that to fully enjoy its many assets one must be willing to commit both the mental and emotional time needed to do so. "Hearts In Atlantis" is a thoughtful bit of nostalgia that will not be rushed, no matter how much one might want it to.

The acting, of course, is one of the movie's biggest selling points. Sir Anthony is at top form here, imbuing Ted with just the right mix of warmheartedness and mystery. At his inscrutable best, Hopkins makes Ted the necessary enigma but gives us — and Bobby — enough of his character's true character to keep us coming back. As Bobby, Yelchin gives an appealing, though somewhat uneven, performance. He also accomplishes a rare thing in movies of this ilk, making us believe that he easily could become the four-decades-older David Morse.

As Bobby's mother, Davis turns in another finely crafted performance. We feel her pain, caught between caring for her son and knowing she is ill-equipped to do so. We also sense her desperation to do anything if it means the chance to move beyond the hand-to-mouth existence she and Bobby are living. The simple interactions between Davis and Yelchin — as mother and son — are some of the film's best moments.

The look of the film is perfect, with Virginia — particularly Staunton — standing in for small-town Connecticut. Bathed in moody filters, but with subtlety and not overpowering sentimentality, "Hearts in Atlantis" pulls one in by tugging at universal feelings and hints of everyone's childhood hometown.

Though I wanted to goose the proceedings into action several times, that speaks more to my personal preferences and time constraints than any real fault of the movie. "Hearts in Atlantis" is a luxury of sorts, a movie that requires a special kind of viewer — one with both the time and the inclination to sit back and let the characters, the mood and the movie's sweet message wash over them. If you knowing this ahead of time, the movie's fragile spell should enthrall and fulfill.



Movies are rated out of a possible 5

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