John Irving has said of his 1985 novel The Cider House Rules that he set out to make a convincing case for abortion rights. One of Irving's best-loved efforts, it transcended its origins as literary agitprop, and after years of failed attempts (chronicled in Irving's recent book My Movie Business), Rules has finally made it to the screen in fine form. Tobey Maguire stars as the teenage resident of a Maine orphanage who comes of age during WWII. The favorite charge of Michael Caine, the orphanage's kindly if overworked head of staff (he serves as its resident obstetrician, physician, and abortionist), Maguire finds himself working with Caine as an unlicensed fellow doctor. Discontented with his lot, Maguire sets out to see the world, or at least a different part of New England, in the company of a young couple played by Paul Rudd and Charlize Theron, the former a daredevil airman soon to return to the war, the latter an affectionate young woman who admits to "not being very good at being alone." Once there, Maguire begins picking apples with a group of migrant workers (among them Delroy Lindo and Erykah Badu) and pondering Caine's words of warning about the world. Adapted by Irving and directed by Swedish director Lasse Hallström (My Life As A Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape) in a classic American style, Cider House is a beautifully acted, carefully paced story of how we come to accept and live with disappointment and moral ambiguity. As such, it's the perfect antidote to The Green Mile. As in Mile, Hallström and Irving take their time telling their story (even if it's an hour shorter), but they never mistake mere length for substance. Every moment in Cider House counts: Its emotional impact feels hard-won, while its moral universe extends far beyond Mile's daring pro-good/anti-evil stance. A carefully considered labor of love, it's worth every bit of the labor.
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