The Cider House Rules - rated - SIMMERING

Homer Go Home!

If I had listened to the critics, I wouldn't have gone to see The Cider House Rules. Smaltzy, the critics said. Too sentimental. Too long. The best adaptation of one of John Irving's novels, but still not good enough. Tobey Maguire mopes his way through the film. He's not a likeable enough hero. Any film which starts off with Michael Caine doing an American accent is not a good sign, etc etc etc.

But I didn't trust the critics, I went, and I enjoyed it. I found it gentle, moving, beautiful to look at, and packing a punch or two. Of course the message of the film is a suspect one, especially from my point of view as a lawyer. Oversimplifying things a bit, John Irving seems to be saying that rules can be broken by those who can be trusted to break them. This includes performing abortions and forging medical qualifications.

This idea is problematic enough in itself, but it didn't help that, having discovered this message all by myself after picking up on a few quite subtle hints, Irving the screewriter allows one character to spell the point out for the audience. How annoying! Mr Irving, please, learn to trust your audience (and trust your director to show us the message without having also to tell it to us).

Interestingly, it was only the men who were deemed worthy to make these life-and-death decisions for the women and children involved. And interestingly Michael Caine's character was not a saintly doctor, but an ether-addicted nurse-groper. Will the unqualified successor to his practice be equally worthy? Who knows? Irving isn't interested in that.

What he is interested in is telling us that there's no place like home - even if it is a Home, and your name is Homer. So given such a dull and predictable premise, we must take pleasure in other things - and there is certainly pleasure there for the taking. Lasse Halstrom's direction is assured, relaxed and elegant. He presents the rather bleak scenery of Maine (and the orphanage) as uniquely beautiful. He handles the children deftly, and rarely spills over into the maudlin. He gathers all the loose fragments of the story togtether creditably, and makes the most of a dullish story and a rather colourless hero. He builds the tension of the dramatic sub-plot well, and I must admit I didn't see the payoff coming. He introduces the characters and then subtlely works with them, so that they begin to get under our skin. He's a master story-teller who really cares about people.

In fact, all the people who commit crimes in this movie (including Delroy Lindo's character) are treated sympathetically. This idea continues to niggle, but my heart has been warmed so thoroughly that I guess I'll think about that tomorrow...