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The Cider House Rules (1999)

  Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: John Irving
Starring: Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron
Links: The Cider House Rules on the IMDb, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy on Video, Buy the Book
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 7.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"At least Caine is able…" - a review by mino

You know how unhelpful and generally irritating it is when people, who are supposed to be reviewing movies, and hence have opinions about them, say something lame like ‘I don't know what I think about this movie’? How much it seems like ‘oh, boo hoo, I can't be screwed working out what I think, I am such a knob’?

Well, I'm gonna do exactly that about The Cider House Rules, but only because I think the movie did the exact same thing itself. Not having read the original book by John Irving, I can't say if the book is the same, but it seems to me that the movie really doesn't know what it's doing. Is it a little morality play about abortion? Is it a love story? Is it an anti-war story? Is it about incest, or drug addiction, or a coming-of-age tale, or just a nice little story about orphans? It tries to be all these things — and let's face it, nothing says you can't — but somehow none of these facets are that interesting, and the movie ends up feeling rather flat.

The Cider House Rules tells the story of a young man named Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), who is raised in an orphanage run by the crusty (and very oddly-accented) doctor, Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). When no-one is interested in adopting Homer, Dr Larch more or less raises him by default, training him to help out with the day-to-day running of the orphanage — including giving assistance in childbirth to the mothers of the soon-to-be-orphans. Larch also tries to train Homer to give (illegal) abortions to those cases where it's deemed necessary, but Homer continually refuses on moral grounds.

Eventually, Homer starts feeling constrained by the orphanage, and elects to head off into the big wide world for the first time, with ex-patient Candy and her beau, and ends up picking apples. Needless to say, there are romantic encouters, dramas, heartbreak, ethical dilemmas of various kinds, and shenanigans in general.

I really wanted to like this movie; I really did. And it should have been easy. While Maguire is probably the weakest actor in the movie (while ‘startled’ is a very fine facial expression, it might be nice if he'd learn another), Caine is absolutely brilliant, and I was rather pleasantly surprised by Charlize Theron as Candy. The issues covered were handled intelligently (if a little clumsily; sometimes I felt like screaming at the screen ‘I get the point!’), and were interesting ones; however, something was just missing.

The writing is rather awkward, but I don't think that's the real problem: the real problem is that the movie tries to cover far too much, without actually making you care. I think the lack of empathy I had for Maguire was a big problem here; if you were the sort of person who saw poor little orphan Homer and thought ‘aww, isn't he adowable, I wanna give him vewy big big cuddles’, then the whole thing might fall into place and ‘work’. As it is, I just thought ‘you know, that Homer Wells is actually an annoying ungrateful little shit’, and as a result the admittedly carefully-constructed tale of Homer's personal growth just becomes a little dull.

One extra point for Michael Caine's performance.

mino gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 5 Mar 2004

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