Cinema Signal:

. "Hearts In Atlantis"

With performances that tower over the material, this film about psychic powers and a boy's need for a father-figure in his life avoids extremes of spiritualism and of sentimentality, though it's not without some of that, with a few cliches thrown in. Moreover, the psychic powers of this film critic suggest that we are witnessing two young actors' first performances in what are destined to be long and successful careers. You read it here.

The story is a flashback to photographer Bobby Garfield's (David Morse) childhood in a small Connecticut town where he returns for a funeral and learns of his childhood sweetheart's death. Once we get into his reminiscenses, it's about him as a boy (played beautifully by 11-year old, Russian-born, Anton Yelchin) living with his self-absorbed mother (Hope Davis), Elizabeth, in a house with a room she lets out to boarders. Enter boarder Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins).

From the get-go, fatherless Bobby is fascinated by the older man while mom is aloof and suspicious. Both feelings are hightened when Ted tells Bobby that he's running from bad men, trying to stay ahead of them as they pursue him. With various suggestions of his psychic powers, Bobby is enthralled by the soft-spoken, understanding resident in his house.

When Bobby, his best pals Sully (Will Rothhaar) and tomboy Carol Gerber (beautiful 14-year old Mika Boorem) are bullied by a gang of older hoodlums who get their rocks off by taking out their aggressions on smaller, more vulnerable kids, it's Ted and his psychic reading of the gang leader's latent homosexuality that puts him in his place and reduces their threat.

Ted also expresses his psychic awareness that Bobby will kiss his Carol, whom he has, up to that moment, only regarded as a buddy. The moment when he fulfills the prophecy is a memorable and charming moment of first love, aided by the pure attractiveness of the actors involved.

The film has such charm, mixed with the mysteries of mental powers, the threat of pursuers with similar powers, an errant mother's awakening of her duties to her son and, perhaps most of all, the relationship of a boy to an older man who helps him strip away lies and guides him at a moment in a young person's life when awareness takes a leap. Rarely has psychic powers been given such a good rap.

For all of Anthony Hopkins' exposure these days (over-exposure?), one again sees what it is to be in the company of so exquisite an actor. He combines delicacy with force of conviction and destiny. His performance is microscopically controlled and on the mark, immersed as he is among other fine players. Hope Davis' bitterness and narcicism is finely tuned to the character requirements while the kids... well, the kids. Like said, these two are on their way -- there's no way Hollywood can ignore them after this showing -- with particular emphasis on Anton Yelchin. Move over Haley Joel Osment. Mika Booren is known to us previously as the hostage, Megan Rose, in the Morgan Freeman "Along Came a Spider".

This film, written by Stephen King and William Goldman deserves more attention and praise than its boxoffice and reviews indicate. Uganda-born Scott Hicks directed ("Snow Falling on Cedars", "Shine") with his usual exemplary taste and understanding of character driven drama.

For Stephen King, this is far less gruesome material than he's generally given to and it implies that he might have an even wider readership if he holds down on the monstrous other-worldly threats that strain credulity and, often, taste.

Estimated cost: $31,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $25,000,000.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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