Ideally, Hearts in Atlantis would only be watched by fatherless 11-year-old boys. That's the status of the movie's main character, Bobby (Anton Yelchin), whose life forever changes when a strange man moves into the attic apartment above the one Bobby shares with his mother (Hope Davis), a bitter woman more interested in her own welfare than her son's. The strange man is Ted Brautigan, and although Anthony Hopkins does his best to cover it up, a faint whiff of fava beans and Chianti tickles the air. Ted has glassy blue eyes and something resembling ESP. When he's having one of his visions, he stares off into the distance, as if he can see the past merging with the future. But what Bobby likes about Ted are his stories and his literary leanings. "The old bald cheater," Ted calls Father Time, quoting Ben Jonson. For Bobby, who's at that age where a day lasts forever, Ted is the Father Time he never had.
Based on a pair of stories by Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis wears its own literary leanings on its sleeve. The thing is, King's leanings lean away from Ben Jonson and more toward, say, Boy's Life. Though set (as all end-of-innocence movies are) right before the Kennedy assassination, Hearts in Atlantis seems to be taking place in the '40s, when little boys collected bottle caps toward the purchase of a Schwinn DX. Only a plot element involving the FBI lifts this movie into even the '50s. Otherwise, there's a nostalgic-for-nostalgia glow over the scenes, which will make some viewers reach for their hankies, others for their revolvers. Scott Hicks, who directed, slows everything down so that the movie, too, seems to last forever. Hicks brought a poetic grace to the highly underrated Snow Falling on Cedars, another movie haunted by the past. Here, he seems stymied, buried under an avalanche of kid-lit clichÃs.