The Cider House Rules (1999)

(On VHS, April 2001) I hope that one of the sign of impending critical maturity is the ability to find value in film about which you don’t really go nuts. The Cider House Rules doesn’t include any of the elements I usually enjoy in film, whether it’s explosions, aliens or Nazis, but when all is said is done, it remains a good film worth a rental. Granted, it’s a message film: Abortion is never an easy subject, and setting a pro-choice argument during the medically barbaric 1940s is just trolling for strong reactions, but once the unpleasant first few minutes are past, the film really finds its coming-of-age narrative. (Readers should note my strong pro-choice convictions and adjust their response accordingly.) While Michael Caine won a supporting Oscar for his role, the real glue of the film is Tobey Maguire, who really holds the film together with his patented vacant stare and slight build; he might not act any different than in Pleasantville, but the performance is a good one. Compare with Charlize Theron, whose interpretation is virtually interchangeable with dozens of other young blonde actresses. In any case, the slow pace eventually settles in (weaning out everyone with Attention Deficit Disorder) and the result is a film crafted with a lot of skill, featuring good performances and a message that might not be too subtle, but should properly offend everyone who should be offended by it.

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