“I’m not a doctor. I haven’t been to medical school; I haven’t even been to high school.”
A beautiful and moving film based on John Irving’s best-selling American classic The Cider House Rules deals with sensitive and controversial subject matters wrapped inside a captivating coming-of-age story. John Irving had second thoughts about trimming his huge novel into a two-hour film and only agreed to adapt the screenplay after the studio agreed to allow his son, Colin Irving, to be in the movie (He plays Major Winslow in a small role as a notifying officer delivering bad news).
The Cider House Rules suffered such a long development process it went through two directors; Phillip Borsos died before they finalized pre-production and Michael Winterbottom left the project annoyed with the lengthy development process, before landing Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, My Life as a Dog). Hallström delivered a gorgeous film that was nominated for seven Oscars and won two, Michael Caine for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and John Irving for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.
The story revolves around young Homer Wells (Tobey Maquire), an orphan no one would adopt because he was too quiet a baby and too calm a child. He is raised like a son and apprenticed by Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine) the kindly gynecologist who runs the orphanage with a wise and loving hand. Despite developing into a talented unlicensed doctor, Homer longs to see the world. He turns his back on the life Dr. Larch planned for him and leaves with a young couple, Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her boyfriend, Lt. Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd) setting off to see the sea for the first time. He takes a job at Wally’s family-owned apple orchard, working for Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo) and bunking in the cider house with black migrant workers. Homer hungrily devours the world experiences the orphanage sheltered him from until he is forced to decide between abiding by the rules and wishes of others, or making up his own destiny.
There simply isn’t a bad performance in The Cider House Rules. The children of the orphanage in particular are wonderful and nuanced characters. Although the more cynical among us may scoff at the idea of a kindly orphanage, I found this setting deeply satisfying. Michael Caine definitely earned his Oscar, delivering a flawless New England dialect and enough warmth to melt the chilly Maine winters. Paul Rudd delivers a winning non-comedic performance, emoting kindness and generosity.
The movie deals unflinchingly with controversial subject matter, like abortion and incest. Although there are times it might feel a bit preachy, it is never heavy-handed or political. The greatest flaw comes from how much of the source material was whittled away by Irving’s adapted screenplay. Fans of the novel will be dismayed by the sheer amount of material cut from the story. However, Irving’s characters are rich and engaging. Their humanity shines through even the most flawed souls.
The Cider House Rules is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 running an average of 32 Mbps. Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton shot the beautiful scenery with bold autumnal colors, bathing scenes in diffused light. The Blu-ray captures this perfectly, and despite some very minor digital enhancement the transfer accurately represents the film. Early scenes in the orphanage are a bit muted, but this was intentional to capture the monotony and enhance Homer’s experience in the outside world.
The audio is presented in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 mix is centered up front due to this being a dialog-focused film. The dialog is clear and sharp. The surround is subtle, but immersive in environment ambience. Composer Rachel Portman’s score adds emotional heft and is well balanced with the dialog.
The extras are bit skimpy considering the movie’s Oscar noms and wins and are unfortunately presented in standard def.
- Audio Commentary with Director Lasse Hallström, Screenwriter John Irving and Producer Richard N. Gladstein – This was a great listen. Having a great American author discuss his work with a director as brilliant as Hallström is like an Ivey League college workshop about the trials, tribulation and rewards of translating novels to film.
- The Cider House Rules: The Making of an American Classic (SD, 22 min) Your standard EPK with too few interviews and too-long clips. For some bizarre reason, Stephen King is interviewed and discusses the benefits of adapting one’s own novel into a screenplay.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 9 min) Deleted scenes which really don’t add much to the movie.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 min)
This is a stunningly visual film. Hallström capitalizes on Maine’s gorgeous scenery with settings and scenes resembling nothing less than masterful paintings. He has a way of coaxing incredibly natural performances out of his actors. Although there are those out there who accuse him and Irving of soliciting pro-choice propaganda, to dismiss this movie over that is to miss out on a richly American story.
“Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.”