The Cider House Rules – 4 stars

Lasse Hallstrom’s film about a Maine orphanage and the maturation of one of its residents (Tobey Maguire) is a beautiful and sentimental picture notable for strong performances by Michael Caine and a score of child actors, and exceptional performances by Maguire and Delroy Lindo. Filmed in Maine and Massachusetts, the film’s score is as heart-tugging as its locale (in orphanages, children leave, die and undergo numerous ordeals, so be prepared). Nonetheless, with the exception of one or two scenes, Hallstrom is restrained in his depiction of the life of a Maine obstetrician and orphanage director who also performs illegal abortions (the film is circa 1940s).

Maguire, an orphan twice-returned, becomes Caine’s protege, but as with all young men, Maguire leaves the orphanage to see the world (or more of Maine) himself. Caine wants him back to carry on his work. Maguire wants to find out about life, and does.

Nothing happens here that you don’t expect to happen, but everything is so well-paced and finely acted, the film works even in the face of your foreknowledge.  Maguire, whose unrelenting wistfulness and glistening eyes can seem manipulative, is an apt choice to play a young man who has always done rather than felt – he has not yet formed his own identity through experience.  Such a role can be easily butchered.  Think a young Robin Williams, the naif who stares at wonderment at all he sees. This is Maguire’s sweet spot and he nails it.

Delroy Lindo, as the crew boss of a group of migrant apple pickers, is commanding. Lindo has an ability to convey so much in one chosen look – violence, confusion, pride – that you find yourself studying rather than watching him. Caine won best supporting actor, and he is, as usual, very good.  But Lindo was overlooked.

The film is unabashedly pro-choice in outlook. I did not find it at all preachy, but a significant thematic rift between Caine and Maguire centers on the issue, and there is no question as to where the filmmakers come down. This may not be the kind of thing you want in a film, but the forthrightness is not offputting.

Finally, while I was uplifted by the film, I was also completely undone and what I perceived as a beautiful but painful story, others may find schmaltzy and overt.  Rachel Portman’s original score is almost unfairly touching.

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