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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 Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

Orphans. How they are often forgotten. Having known a couple growing up, I won't pretend to know what it feels like to be one, but some of their stories are unforgettable. 'The Cider House Rules' takes a look at the orphan's way of life, from a positive and very sensitive point of view and stretches its story to include the adventures of one who is now a man, setting off to experience the world for himself. Tobey Maguire ('Pleasantville'), is Homer Wells, a young man working at an orphanage (and abortion clinic) in Maine during World War II and is loved by all who live and work there. Homer is a right hand man to Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine...playing with an American accent in his finest work in years which will bring him an Oscar nomination). Dr. Larch sees Homer as the one who will carry on his work at the orphanage when he leaves. Community bureaucrats want Larch relieved of his position. Some critics are making this film a political issue by saying that it is really about abortion at its deepest roots but this argument doesn't wash. Abortions are only a part of the story to wash away the false notion that they didn't occur 50 or 60 years ago. It's like a gangster film. The main plot is about crime. You don't look at a gangster film as being a study of guns!

Dr. Larch comforts the boys each night as they get tucked in and as he turns off the light and closes the door to the room, he says: "Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England!" Homer desires to leave the orphanage and see the world for himself. He is tempted by Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her boyfriend Walter (Paul Rudd). They arrive one day at the orphanage clinic to have an abortion and Homer decides to go off with them and experience the free side of life. Homer says that he's never seen the ocean and gets a chance to look at it. He also takes up a job picking apples at Walter's family owned farm and befriends Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo) and his daughter Rose Rose (Erykah Badu). After going off to fight in the war, Walter leaves Candy behind and she and Homer have an affair.

Meanwhile, the story shifts back and fourth at times to the adventures of Homer's strengthening as a man and the events taking place at the orphanage. One of the things most unexpected but welcomed as a piece of exceptional drama, are the scenes which take place at the farm where Homer works. There is a story of disenchantment involving incest, violence and disagreement about the way of life there. The film is ideal at examining the reality that people from "the greatest generation" were the same as people today in terms of personal behaviour, and in the film industry recently, we have had a number of examples that show that times change but people don't.

The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the Swedish director responsible for such films as 'My Life as a Dog', 'Once Around' and 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape?', a movie with a curious tie-in to this film about a young man coming of age and seeing the world in more realistic terms than he's been used to. The film is also written by John Irving, based on his novel and his screenplay is without pretentious qualities, sentimentality or cliches.

As for the cast, there are many things you can say. I look back to 1987's 'The Untouchables' and my father and I still have a debate over the way Kevin Costner played Elliot Ness. My father called it a "wet wash cloth performance" while I was impressed by it. The whole point of the film was to draw wisdom from a more experienced character, that of Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery). That's the way I saw 'The Cider House Rules' play out. Tobey Maguire's character of Homer is rather toned done but Maguire draws his experience in life from those more experienced and becomes a better man for it, especially when he finds out at the end what Dr. Larch does for him.

Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, along with Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker who plays nurses at the clinic are characters who aren't really given a deep sense of focus as much as they should be but their contributions to the film and still significant. Michael Caine is the real treat of this film, giving his best performance since his Oscar win in 1986 for best supporting actor in 'Hannah and Her Sisters'. Caine won rave reviews in 1998 as a third string English talent agent in 'Little Voice' and while winning a Golden Globe for it, he was snubbed by the Oscars and didn't even get nominated for the role. 'The Cider House Rules' may bring Caine another Oscar win as he was sort of the surprise winner in 1986 and Caine's clever talent as an actor is matched by his willingness to diversify himself and he is one of the best at it.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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