Scott Hicks' Hearts in Atlantis is yet another attempt to turn Stephen King's non-horror writing into prestige filmmaking. But unlike the others in that category, Hearts doesn't offer an involving story on which to prop King's nostalgic ruminations about coming of age (Stand By Me) or spiritual mysticism (The Green Mile). The result is a handsome production design without soul, a soppy inspiration piece that asks emotions of its viewers without earning them. It's bland and colorless, and feels manipulative. By now, Anthony Hopkins can act out cultured, grandfatherly wisdom as easily as he can brush his teeth, so applaud Academy voters for not automatically filling in his name for an Oscar nomination in a film that feels tailor-made for accolades. It's not entirely unaffecting, but the narrative is so consumed by vagaries that it quickly loses interest. Hearts in Atlantis demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of Hicks' most recent project before it, Snow Falling on Cedars (1999). The director again shows a knack for pairing with dynamite cinematographers, there using the great Robert Richardson, here switching with equal capability to the late Piotr Sobocinski, to whom the film is dedicated. But scripts and performances remain curious weaknesses for Hicks, who gets ham-fisted dialogue from William Goldman and can't draw comfortable performances from anyone, but Hopkins and David Morse. Those naturally drawn to sepia tones and shapeless gravitas may appreciate Hearts in Atlantis, but most others will find it a poor return on the transcendent journey suggested by its title.
by Derek Armstrong review