Cider House Rules [1999]

Genre: Drama, Romance
In adapting his own novel The Cider House Rules for the screen, John Irving sacrificed at least some of the depth and detail that made his humanitarian themes resonate, while the film--directed with Scandinavian sobriety by Lasse Hallström--is often vague about the complex issues (abortion, incest, responsibility) that lie at its core. Allowing for this ambiguity (which is arguably intentional), the film retains much of what made Irving's novel so admired, and like Hallström's earlier feature What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, it's blessed with a generous, forgiving spirit toward the mistakes, foibles, and desires of its many engaging characters. Central to the story (set during World War II) is Homer (Tobey Maguire), a young man raised in a Maine orphanage, where the ether-sniffing Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) rules with benevolent grace while performing safe but illegal abortions. To expand his horizons, Homer follows a young couple (Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd) to do fieldwork on an apple farm, where his innocent eyes are opened to the good and evil of the world--and to the realization that not all rules are steadfast in all situations. By the time Homer returns to the orphanage, The Cider House Rules--which features one of Caine's finest performances--is memorable more for its many charming and insightful moments than for any lasting dramatic impact. Is Homer fated to come full circle in his kindhearted journey? It's left to the viewer to decide. --Jeff Shannon

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