The Cider House Rules
***.5 GM
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Erykah Badu, Paul Rudd

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The Catholic anti-defamation leagues are either really savvy or really misguided. Either they were savvy enough to devote all their energy and vocalization towards protesting "Dogma" and purposefully ignored "The Cider House Rules" in hopes that not drawing attention to it would cause it to be viewed by barely anyone, or they were simply misguided into thinking "Dogma" was a greater threat to their anti-abortion stances rather than going after this film - one that could actually change a few minds.

Not to say "The Cider House Rules" is strictly about the abortion issue, but it does contain some of the more eloquent and emotionally reasonating defenses of the pro-choice side of the debate that I've seen. Unfortunately, I can see a lot of people completely ignoring and despising this movie as soon as they see an abortion taking place, and thus negating any insight they could glean from it. If only more pro-lifers could take the stance that Homer Wells does - "I don't want to do it, but I don't have a problem with you doing it" - maybe things would get solved more quickly.

The story is thus: Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is an orphan twice-adopted and twice-returned that grows up in WWII Maine under the tutelage of Dr. Larch (Michael Caine), the orphans' caretaker and a man who's not afraid to perform necessary abortions despite the laws against them. He's a cynical man, but he takes great care of the children with the help of his nurses, and he teaches Homer how to care for the women that come to them in need of medical help. Eventually, though, Homer is bitten by the wanderlust, and when a couple two months along come in to end a pregnancy, he hitches a ride back to their homes with them to see what he can of the world. He works as an apple picker and a lobster man, gets busy with Charlize Theron while her boyfriend is off bombing people in Burma and befriends Delroy Lindo's group of migrant workers. Basically, he experiences a lot of the good and bad that the 'real world' has to offer.

It's actually a good feeling to see an orphanage on film with caretakers that are actually kind and loving, rather than the disturbing Oliver Twist sort of nightmare facilities that people are afraid they all are. Tobey Maguire is an odd case - when people like Maguire and Theron just suddenly get all sorts of high-profile work out of nowhere, it makes you wonder what the hell happened behind-the-scenes. But in this case, the two of them give good, honest and simple performances, helped by Paul Rudd's charm as the nice guy that no one wants to betray (but of course, he finishes where all nice guys do). I'm not one to measure someone's performance by invoking the gold statues they hand out every year, but let's just say I wouldn't really have a problem with it if Michael Caine snagged that sucker.

As for the abortion issue, I'm a pro-choice guy, but it's a choice I'd HATE to ever have to make. I've always had the thought in the back of my mind that, no matter HOW bad a situation these kids might be born into (save for in cases of incest and rape), I've seen and heard of a lot of people that are "just glad to be alive," despite their awful circumstances. Overpopulation is a huge problem, and bringing kids into the world with the odds stacked so highly against them isn't smart in any way... but it feels horrible that so many kids never get the chance to beat the odds. It's a heartwrenching dilemma, but I'd never want anyone to be forced to give up the right to make that choice. This film deftly depicts the reasons why.

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