Film Review: The Cider House Rules

Writer John Irving hasn't had the best of luck in film adaptations of his acclaimed novels. Films such as 'The World According to Garp' have been interesting, if never fully successful. Irving took matters into his own hands for this pro-abortion tale of a young orphan, Homer (Tobey Maguire) who leaves the protective orphanage run by the ether-sniffing doctor, Wilbur Larch. Landing a job as an apple picker at an orchard run by the fianc? of Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron), he begins an affair with her, whilst resisting the attempts by Larch to lure him back.

''Cider'''s Maguire hits the road with Charlize TheronIrving's script skillfully and elegantly shuffles the multiple plot lines. His evocation of a young man's awakening to the possibilities of life is touching, whilst mostly steering clear of the maudlin. Larch is a wonderful example of the type of crusty, yet warm elder men that character actors love to get their teeth into. Each supporting player is given a moment to shine. However, Irving's plots are lacking in real dramatic conflict, and those which are addressed, such as the abortion and incest issues, are dealt with in superficial and over-simplified ways. Also, the main character of Homer is a little too placid and passive to create a memorable hero.

Lasse Hallstrom is a director who has lost his way in Hollywood. After directing the quietly brilliant 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' in 1993, he has turned out sub-standard dross such as 'Something to Talk About'. Thankfully, 'The Cider House Rules' will mark a second bite of the cherry. Directed with grace and beauty, 'Cider House' is one of the most striking films of the year. Hallstrom, in conjunction with cinematographer, Oliver Stapleton creates a lush picture postcard view of New England. He is also adept in directing actors (think Leonardo DiCaprio's brilliant performance in 'Grape'). Hallstrom visualises the whimsy and lyricism of Irving's writing. However, he relies too often on over-cute reaction shots from adorable orphans to manipulate emotions. Also, whilst it is a beautifully shot film, it is strictly conventional, and there is no sense of risk or daring in the direction.

The acting is accomplished on all counts. Toby Maguire gives another subtle, excellent performance as a young man on the cusp of adulthood. He ably anchors the film, and selflessly allows others to shine in more showy roles. Michael Caine gives one of his best performances in years as Larch. His accent may wobble in places, but he gives his character warmth, emotion and bravado, which liven up the film whenever he is on screen. Theron is required to do little more then look stunning and act empathetic, both of which she does admirably. She even goes so far as to suggest that she might be able to act. Delroy Lindo proves once again that he is one of Hollywood's consummate character actors, lending shade and sympathy to Mr Rose. Erykah Badu's offering suggests that if the music career goes downhill, one as an actress may be hers for the taking.

It may be ageist to say it, but 'The Cider House Rules' is real old-fashioned entertainment. Its seven Oscar nominations rested on the fact that it appealed greatly to older voters. It looks sumptuous, pretends to deal with BIG issues, is unabashedly sentimental and tame on virtually all levels. Quite how it managed to receive an '18' cert is beyond me. Much as I hate to pigeon hole an age group for a film, it is likely that your parents will enjoy it far more than you will. That is not to say that 'Rules is in any way a bad film, just one which will do little more then pass 2 hours in an enjoyable way before being comfortably forgotten.

Ian O'Sullivan