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The Cider House Rules

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Cider House Rules

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, Jane Alexander, Kathy Baker, Erykah Badu, Charlize Theron, Kieran Culkin, Kate Nelligan

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

John Irving's sprawling novels have mainly followed the quest of a misunderstood youth to find his own place in the world (The World According To Garp, Simon Birch, etc). But they have never been easy to adapt for the screen, with many subplots and characters being ditched altogether. The Cider House Rules however marks the first time that Irving has adapted one of his own novels for the screen. This brings a reverence to its treatment of the text, the characters and the themes. However, Irving's screenplay is still too literary, and he tends to down play many of the darker elements of the story - abortion, incest, etc. The narrative also unfolds at a rather ponderous pace that eventually diminishes much of its emotional impact.

This charming coming of age story takes place in Maine during the early 1940's. The hero, Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire, from Pleasantville, etc), has been raised in St Clouds orphanage. Dr Larch (Michael Caine, in one of his best performances for years) takes an almost paternal interest in the welfare of his charges, but he has a soft spot for Homer, whom he trains as his assistant. Dr Larch also performs abortions on demand, even though they are illegal.

But Homer feels that there is more to life than helping Larch at the orphanage and decides to strike out on his own, hoping to experience more of the world. When the beautiful Candy (Charlize Theron, from The Astronaut's Wife, etc) and her fighter pilot boyfriend (Paul Rudd, from Clueless, etc) come to the orphanage for an abortion, Homer leaves with them. He works in an apple orchard. There he slowly falls in love with Candy, and is also drawn into the personal lives of his fellow workers. During his mini-odyssey, Homer comes to realise his destiny and find his place in the world. He ultimately learns that, unlike his time at the orphanage, life and love do not always follow a neatly ordered set of rules. Indeed, some rules were meant to be broken.

The ensemble cast deliver solid performances. Maguire delivers a mature and subtle performance in the central role of Homer, and one can see his character grow in strength and self confidence as the film develops. However, it is Caine who is most impressive. He just seems to get better with age, and delivers one of his more well rounded characterisations as the unhappy but deeply caring Dr Larch.

Swedish director Lasse Hallstom (My Life As A Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, etc) handles the material with intelligence, but without any real sense of compassion or warmth. Hallstrom only came aboard when original director Phillip Borsos died of leukaemia and Michael Winterbottom departed, citing creative differences with Irving. However, Oliver Stapleton's cinematography is gorgeous, and visually the film is a joy to watch.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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