Hollywood is particularly good at sentimentalising the lives of children and giving them that saccharine glow of everlasting happiness that makes one want to reach for the sickbag.
But occasionally a film like Hearts in Atlantis comes along and puts it into a more realistic perspective, which is that our youth is a mixture of joy and darkness and that to look upon it as such is a perfectly acceptable sentiment, especially for the children concerned.
One of the terrors of youth is the unexpected departure of a parent, perhaps such as Stephen King felt after his father said he was popping out to get some smokes and was never seen again. How does one believe the word of a figure of authority ever again?
But it is such deprivation that not only compels writers like King to fill that gaping hole, but also to recognise that there are benevolent substitutes for those who betray us in one way or the other. The ability to acknowledge that is what separates an artist from the rest of walking-wounded mankind.
And so we get to a turning point in the life of 11-year-old Bobby Garfield, played astonishingly well by Anton Yelchin, who perhaps intuits the fact that life is uncertain; his parents were Russian figure skaters who defected to the United States when he was a mere six months old.
Living alone with his beautiful, unhappy and self-obsessed mother (Hope Davis), Bobby has his youthful days of bliss, but he has no father. So when the mysterious Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves in upstairs and says some of the things a father needs to say, it’s obvious the two will become friends.
But it’s the mysterious side of Ted that threatens everything and everyone, especially Bobby’s mother and therefore her son’s happiness, such as it is. And this is where it’s rather pleasant seeing Hopkins showing some real loss and almost managing that rare quality in film these days — tenderness.
Astutely adapted by William Goldman from two recent Stephen King stories, with David Morse topping and tailing the adult Bobby to emotional perfection, Hearts in Atlantis is impeccably directed by Scott Hicks of Shine fame. Not a scene, action or word is wasted in this fine evocation of the endless joys and lurking terrors of youth.