The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

After 13 years work for three separate directors, John Irving had to leave an awful lot out of his novel to fit into two hours of film. Despite the false starts, innumerable rewrites and agonising decisions, The Cider House Rules is an emotionally rich experience. To call it a coming-of-age period piece is like calling Moby Dick a fish.

Swedish director Lasse Hallström (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, My Life As A Dog) abhors cliché and prefers insinuation to confrontation. The film has what the Americans call "a European look", which means understatement, visual delicacy, concern for script and character, and a feeling that time will wait if you ask it nicely.

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Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) has lived in the orphanage at St Clouds, Maine, all his life. Dr Larch (Michael Caine), who runs the place, treats him like a son and trains him to be his successor.

Homer has no proper education and is not sure that he wants to be a doctor. For one thing, he doesn't believe in abortion, which Larch performs illegally to help desperate pregnant girls who seek him out.

The film has two halves, St Clouds and the apple farm. When Candy (Charlize Theron) comes to see Larch with her boyfriend, Wally (Paul Rudd), who is on leave from the war - the year is 1942 - Homer goes away with them, leaving everything he has ever known. "I have never seen the ocean," he tells an incredulous Candy, daughter of a lobster fisherman.

Wally finds him work on his mother's apple farm, where he shares a bunk hut with itinerant labourers, headed by the formidable Mr Rose (Delroy Lindo). What of the rules? They are pinned to the wall, have been there for years, and have little relevance. "We make our own rules, every single day," Mr Rose says. "Ain't that so, Homer?"

This is only the barest outline of a story that encompasses the lives of so many. The performances are exquisite. Caine not only relinquishes his trademark accent, but absorbs the very essence of this lonely, compassionate man, who breaks every rule he pleases.

Maguire (Pleasantville, Ride With The Devil) underplays to perfection. Homer could have been an "Aw shucks!" innocent, with straw in his hair. Instead, he is a watcher, a listener, whose natural sympathy is strengthened by determination and intelligence.

Theron has brains as well as beauty and the children, especially little Erik Per Sullivan, as Fuzzy, the sick one, are an inspiration.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Coming of age story about a boy raised in an orphanage, who seeks answers in an orchard.
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Director: Lasse Hallstroumlm

Writer: John Irving

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Paul Rudd, Michael Caine, Jane Alexander, Kathy Baker, Erykah Badu, Kieran Culkin, Kate Nelligan, Heavy D

Year: 1999

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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