1999 / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #429: The Cider House Rules (1999)

After spending time in the present day we move back to the past with two films from a man who started his career by directing ABBA videos. However, by the turn of the decade, Swedish helmer Lasse Hallström had begun making films in the English language. His first big success was with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? however he would later see two of his films nominated for Best Picture in successive years.

First up was a film version of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules; with the author adapting his own work for the screen. Both films in this post were new to me going in, however I did know a little about The Cider House Rules thanks to one of its stars. That star was Michael Caine who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar for playing the patriarchal Dr. Wilbur Larch who cares for the young boys of a Maine orphanage. I personally thought that all of the action would take place at the orphanage but instead the film primarily deals with the story of Homer Wells; a young man born at the institution that Larch takes under his wing. Initially believing that Homer would take over Larch’s place as the lead doctor at the orphanage, the film went of course about forty minutes in when our protagonist left his home with a couple who’d come for an abortion. From there on I thought the film meandered too much as Homer became an apple picker and also learnt to catch lobsters. The film mainly concerned itself with exploring Homer’s affair with the married Candy as well as his relationship with his fellow apple pickers. Meanwhile, we got regular updates from Dr. Larch who tried to get the board to make Homer his replacement, going as far as to present phony qualifications in his apprentice’s name. The film had a rather predictable conclusion as Homer became Larch’s replacement and ended the movie by quoting his mentor’s iconic line to the current intake of boys at the orphanage.

For a film that deals with the subjects of incest, abortion and infidelity; The Cider House Rules is an incredibly quaint tale. John Irving’s ill-paced narrative meant that the film fluctuated in quality depending on what was happening to Homer at the time. I have to say that I didn’t much care for Tobey Maguire’s wide-eyed performance of Homer and felt he lacked the qualities of a leading man here. Similarly, Charlize Theron gave a lacklustre turn as the one-dimensional Candy; a woman who had supposedly cheated on her husband with the young doctor who was present at her abortion. I think the reason Michael Caine won his Oscar for The Cider House Rules is that he looked better thanks to the flimsy turns given by the rest of the cast. Having not seen The Cider House Rules before I was generally underwhelmed by Caine’s overall showing here and it’s fair to say that he’s been a lot better in films that weren’t as well-regarded by the Academy. Additionally, Caine was up against more worthy competition with at least two performers more deserving of the Award than he was. What I feel made The Cider House Rules an Academy favourite was the sumptuous cinematography provided by John Stapleton. Stapleton utilises the Maine scenery well and Hallström certainly realises that the script’s main strengths are its exterior locations. I would go as far as to say that the Maine countryside made the biggest impression on me out of everything that happened in the film. Apart from the cinematography, everything else was a little lacklustre and I was ultimately disappointed with what I saw from Hallström here especially seeing as he was nominated for Best Director at that year’s ceremony.


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