Revisionism might affect the box-office fate of this flat film version of the 1999 Stephen King bestseller. Terror is expected when you link fearmeister King with Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lecter himself. But the fact that Hearts in Atlantis — tepidly directed by Scott Hicks (Shine), from an acutely detailed script by William Goldman (Misery) — is a gentle character study more akin to King's Stand by Me than to the horrors of The Shining, could help the film serve as a comfort to audiences in the light of current events.
What a shame, though, that the movie isn't a livelier business. The story is told in flashback from the perspective of fiftyish photographer Bobby Garfield (David Morse), who revists the Connecticut suburb where he grew up. The time is 1960, and Bobby (Anton Yelchin), has just turned eleven. He copes with his working mom, Liz (Hope Davis in a performance of riveting complexity), a widow given to extravagance when it comes her wardrobe but stingy when it comes to Bobby. For his birthday, he gets an adult library card instead of a bike.
Into their lives comes Ted Brautigan (Hopkins), a mystery man out to rent the room upstairs. Ted, with failing eyes, pays Bobby to read him the newspaper and to watch out for pursuers he calls "low men." Bobby often catches Ted staring into space and realizes this gentleman stranger has a psychic gift. He knows that Bobby wants that bike, that Liz is having a sordid affair with her rapacious boss (Adam Lefevre), that the school bully (Timmy Reifsnyder) dresses up in his mother's clothes, that Bobby will kiss Carol Gerber (Mika Boorem) and "it will be the kiss by which all others will be judged." Ted also knows that the unnamed force chasing him, be it the FBI or the mob, will snare its prey. In the meantime, he becomes a father to the boy. Hopkins instills the role with delicate nuances, and his scenes with Yelchin have a touching poignance. But Hicks, following his stultifying direction of Snow Falling on Cedars, coats the film in a bogus idyllic mist that substitutes cheap sentiment for blunt truth.