Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: PG-13 for adult intensity
Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Director Scott Hicks came out of the box running with 1996s “Shine”, a magnificent film about isolation and anxiety. His subsequent projects (“Snow Falling on Cedars”) looked gorgeous but lacked substance. Is trying too hard the curse of a One Hit Wonder?
Anthony Hopkins plays Ted Brautigan, who arrives at a Connecticut boarding house in 1960 with a couple of suitcases and a mysterious past. The widowed owner (Hope Davis as Elizabeth Garfield) takes an instant dislike to Brautigan, but young son Bobby (Anton Yelchin) is intrigued. The enigmatic Brautigan shows a friendly interest in Bobby’s life, and, aware that Bobby has his eye on a spiffy two-wheeled cruiser, offers him a dollar-a-week job reading the newspaper aloud. A curious friendship is born, much to the dismay of the anxious, self-centered Elizabeth.
Ted isn’t your average friend. He’s blessed, or cursed, with the gift of sight. He suffers from spontaneous trances, and insists that Bobby be on the lookout for mysterious men (“low men in yellow trenchcoats”) roaming the neighborhood. The concept of dark strangers lurking in the shadows, desperate to exploit Brautigan’s gift, mars the edges of the otherwise gilded pleasures of a classic childhood summer.
Based on a collection of Stephen King short stories (which are eternally being adapted to the screen), “Hearts” is chock full of potential that’s barely realized. The enduring bonds of friendship and the profound sense of childhood discovery give off lots of warm fuzzies, but fascinating hints of communist connections are way too subtle to make an impact. Anthony Hopkins’ presence assures an elegant dignity, but even Sir Tony can’t save the storyline from an unfortunate spoon-fed pabulum-ness. Yelchin has a sweet, open face that loves the screen. In tandem with childhood sweetheart Carol (Mika Boorem) he’s stunning, but asked to emote on his own, or against the uber-talented Hopkins, he’s altogether too aware of his preciousness and is guilty of melodramatic excess. Subplot involving Davis as a selfish, neglectful mom is nicely nuanced.
Played in flashback, with David Morse recalling his complicated childhood, the film is bathed in the golden glow of nostalgia. In the battle of style versus substance, it’s style by a head.