The Cider House Rules (12)

Review by Jack Foley

LASSE Hallstrom's The Cider House Rules surprised many when it was nominated for no less than seven Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director), but as a beautifully shot and compelling human drama it is more than worthy of such accolades.

Set in 1940s New England, Tobey Maguire stars as Homer Wells, a young orphan about to embark on a coming of age journey of self discovery which will teach him about love, loss, happiness and pain.

Having twice been adopted and twice returned, Homer is resigned to spending his life in the Maine orphanage he has grown up in, under the loving tutorage of his doctor, Larch (the excellent Michael Caine). But things change when a radiant young woman (Charlize Theron's Candy) arrives at St Cloud's with her World War II boyfriend (Paul Rudd) requiring an abortion, thus presenting Homer with the chance to depart and discover the world.

Smitten by the young beauty, Homer gets a job picking apples and, when Rudd is called back into service, embarks on an affair with her, during which he is forced to make some life-changing decisions which bring his own ideals into conflict.

Hallstrom's movie - based on the epic John Irving novel - is a slow building and extremely poignant film, packed with brilliant performances which tug at the heart strings.

As Homer, Maguire builds on a fast-growing reputation with a performance that perfectly combines the awe-struck vulnerability of a young man discovering the world, with that of someone forced to make difficult decisions for the first time.

His relationship with Caine's paternal Larch forms a central part of the movie and is always believable, as the older man struggles to persuade his would-be heir to return to the Orphanage.

Caine, also, is magnificent, discarding his trademark Cockney accent in favour of an American one, and delivering a fascinating interpretation of a drug-addicted doctor willing to provide abortions at a time when they were still illegal while caring for the young charges at the home.

It is a role which has rightly been recognised with a Best Supporting Actor nomination and one which helps elevate the movie to a higher level.

The rest of the cast is uniformly good - Delroy Lindo, in particular, stands out as the incestuous leader of the apple-pickers, while Theron proves she is more than just a pretty face (but what a face!) - and several of the orphans (particularly Erik Per Sullivan's bronchial Fuzzy) will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.

The Cider House Rules also scores highly by having its author as screenwriter, so while large chunks of the novel are missing (key characters have been omitted), it remains a gripping story afforded a generous running time (2hrs and 11mins).

Some may accuse the film of being a little too emotionally manipulative, while others will yearn for a faster pace, but as a heart-warming character study laced with tragedy, it deserves to be considered as a minor classic.