The Cider House Rules

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 5 Minutes

Reviewer: Jones
Grade: A+

"Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England."

It's the early 1940's, war is raging around the world and in his tiny little nook of the world Dr. Wilbur Larch delivers these words of inspiration to the tenants of the orphanage he oversees. He says these words, because it makes the children feel good. He says these words, because it makes him feel good.

Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) has always made a special effort to avoid becoming to attached to the children, but their was one that he couldn't help but grow to love. The child was one, who was adopted and eventually brought back to the orphanage for one reason or another on a number of occasions. His name was Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) and Dr. Larch would no longer allow him to be adopted by anyone. Instead he chose to raise Homer as if he were his very own son.

Over the years Dr. Larch passed his knowledge on to Homer. This involved everything from delivering children to performing abortions. Homer never cared for the abortion end of the deal and made his feelings known to Dr. Larch. Dr. Larch would argue his side of the case and nothing would be resolved. It was always thought that one day Homer would take Dr. Larch's place at the orphanage when the time was right. That was before Candy (Charlize Theron) and Wally (Paul Rudd) came to the orphanage.

Wally is on leave from the military and Candy is in need of an abortion when they arrive. The procedure is done the same as any other, but seeing the young soldier's car, Homer gets happy feet. He views this as his chance to get out and see the world. Against Dr. Larch's wishes, he hitches a ride and finds work picking apples at Wally's orchard. He has never picked apples before, but he learns the ropes from Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo) and his crew of migrant workers.

Shortly after he arrives Wally is called back into service and he entrusts Homer to look over things while he is gone. Homer vows to do so and goes about his business, but eventually romance, his past and things left unsaid will have a profound effect on the outcome of this wonderfully woven tale.

"The Cider House Rules" manages to tackle some serious, almost taboo, subjects while being a gorgeous film to behold. The film delves into the darkness of society by addressing the issues of infidelity, incest and abortion. It never gets preachy about it's subjects. It merely presents us with characters who lie on both sides of the fence on the respective subjects and allows us to contemplate the arguments being presented, so that we might form our own opinions. To offset the dark underpinnings of the story is some of the most beautiful cinematography you are ever likely to see.

The beauty of this film is found in the simplicity of the story. It is the story of a young man coming of age in a time when young men had to grow up much faster than usual due to the war that had the world in it's grip. There was a film from 1999 that was all about finding beauty in the world, but it never captured beauty the way that "The Cider House Rules" does. Fall has never looked as delicious as it does here. The brilliant color of the trees, the homey feel of the apple orchard and even the wintry landscape surrounding the orphanage enclose the viewer in a world of visual splendor that is difficult to leave.

It is a difficult world to leave, because it is a place of warmth and comfort that is made that way by the people that inhabit it.

Dr. Larch is the sort of grandfatherly type of person that one would expect to find if they went calling upon an orphanage during this period in time. He is portrayed with unmistakable clarity by Michael Caine ("Quills") in a performance that garnered him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He is a man who works himself so hard, caring for the unwanting mothers of the world and their unwanted children, that the only way he can find sleep is by using the ether that he uses to render his patients unconscious. It is a role with many layers to it and Caine conveys them all with class in a performance that is very worthy of praise.

His pseudo-adopted son Homer is portrayed with a wonderful air of naivete by Tobey Maguire ("Pleasantville"). There are many moments when his closeted upbringing shows itself in his interactions with the world away from the orphanage. It is a fine performance that relies greatly on his character's relationship with Candy, whose character is deliciously performed by Charlize Theron ("Reindeer Games").

Charlize is a woman with the sort of timeless beauty that lends itself perfectly to roles such as this one. She has the look of a young woman growing up in the 1940's and she has the wholesomeness of a woman that any man would be proud to bring home to meet mom. On top her appearance, Charlize is also a fine actress. Her role is that of a woman struggling with her emotions on many levels. She loves Wally, but finds it hard to be faithful to him while he is overseas and finds comfort in the arms of Homer, whom she also professes to love. She is a woman who has a hard time making decisions, so eventually people end up making the decisions for her.

Adding to the emotion arc of the film is Delroy Lindo (Can also be seen slumming in the remake of "Gone In Sixty Seconds") in the role of Mr. Rose. Delroy has always been a fine character actor, whose presence I welcome whenever I see him onscreen, but he has never been as good as he is here. On the surface he is a good man with a strong work ethic and attention to detail. He is a man who commands respect from those who work with him and he eventually receives in one way or another. Below the surface, however, Mr. Rose is struggling with his own demons. He often lets his emotions get the better of him in both his personal life and work life. He gives into temptations that should not be given into and over time comes to the realization that there is a price to pay for his weakness.

Weakness is not something that this film suffers from. It flows from one scene to the next with precision, maximizing the effectiveness of every moment and every shot. It is carried by it's lush cinematography and brilliant performances, including a fine debut performance by Erykah Badu as Mr. Rose's daughter Rose.

In watching this film I felt a sense of relief. I think it had something to do with the comforting thought that there really are people in the world like Dr. Larch and Homer Wells. The sort of selfless people who will put the needs of others above their own interests, at least for the most part.

It is this feeling of comfort coupled with all of the other masterfully executed elements that make "The Cider House Rules" everything one would expect of an "American Classic" and a whole lot more.