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The Cider House Rules

Many writers will express dissatisfaction when one of their novels is

turned into a movie. By virtue of the differences between the two

mediums, pertinent parts of the fiction are often omitted or telescoped.

Characters are composited and plot strands jettisoned. Sometimes a fine

film can emerge (think "Gone With the Wind"), sometimes not (see any

feature film based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels).

There are those novelists (like Fitzgerald) who tried their hand in

Tinseltown, yet those who were truly successful number in the few. As

the millennium approaches, Hollywood seemingly has turned to the

bookshelves for inspiration with some 10 motion pictures based on

literary properties hitting the screen in December alone. Among them is

"The Cider House Rules," the long awaited screen adaptation of John

Irving's popular novel.

Apparently, Irving was not very pleased when filmmakers undertook

previous film versions of his work. While "The World According to Garp"

(1982) was a moderate success and brought Oscar nominations to

supporting players Glenn Close and John Lithgow, "The Hotel New

Hampshire" (1984) was an artistic and box-office disappointment. When "A

Prayer for Owen Meany" was turned into 1998's treacly "Simon Birch,"

Irving distanced himself and his novel from the finished project.

"The Cider House Rules" clearly held special meaning to the author, and

he spent close to 15 years shepherding it to the screen (Irving detailed

how this was achieved in the recently published "My Movie Business: A

Memoir"). Writing the screenplay adaptation, Irving cannot blame anyone

for tampering with his Dickensian novel. Ironically, around the time the

film went into production under the sure hand of Lasse Hallstrom, the

Seattle Repertory Co. was presenting a two-part, six-hour play that

captured the novel.

Irving distilled the essence of the story and abandoned several

prominent plots for this two-hour film. Yet, as screenwriter, he does

manage to pack in quite a lot: abortion, love, death and the search to

find one's place in the world.

Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine, in a creditable American accent) runs

the St. Cloud Orphanage where one particular charge, Homer Wells (a fine

Tobey Maguire), proves difficult to place. Eventually, Homer becomes

Larch's surrogate son, training under him and assisting in delivering

babies, yet refusing to participate in the good doctor's activity of

performing illegal abortions.

When a spirited young couple, Candy and Wally (a terrific Charlize

Theron and a blandly underused Paul Rudd) arrive to partake of Larch's

services, Homer impulsively decides to accompany them. Thus, he begins

an odyssey that lands him a job working for Wally's mother at her apple

orchard alongside a band of migrant fruit pickers (played by Delroy

Lindo, K. Todd Freeman, Heavy D and Erykah Badu). Over the course of a

year's time, Homer truly comes of age by falling in love with Candy and

facing a momentous decision that alters his life.

As he has proven in earlier films, director Hallstrom has an affinity

for tales centered on young men, and he once again directs with skill

and grace. Oliver Stapleton's cinematography lends a clean, handsome

look to the film.

The performances from the principals are uniformly terrific, with

Maguire fulfilling his potential as a leading man, Caine offering a fine

turn as Larch and Lindo crafting a chilling portrait of a man with

secrets. Although there is a slightly rushed feeling to the ending, and

it does not compare with a reading of the novel, "The Cider House Rules"

proves engaging and entertaining.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for mature thematic elements, sexuality, nudity,

substance abuse and some violence.

"The Cider House Rules"

Tobey Maguire: Homer Wells

Charlize Theron: Candy Kendall

Delroy Lindo: Mr. Rose

Paul Rudd: Wally Worthington

Michael Caine: Doctor Wilbur Larch

Erykah Badu: Rose Rose

A Miramax presentation. Director Lasse Hallstrom. Screenplay and novel

John Irving. Producer Richard N. Gladstein. Director of photography

Oliver Stapleton. Editor Lisa Zeno Churgin. Music Rachel Portman.

Production designer David Gropman. Costume designer Renee Ehrlich

Kalfus. Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes.