How easy it must be to make such a boring film. When aiming for awards, it is easy for the tunnel vision to consume any semblance of interest in a project. With its sole aim being to provide Michael Caine with an Academy Award on a silver platter, the work within The Cider House Rules leaves much to be desired. Approaching its cast with such meticulous care and fear of offence, the instant downside to this piece is that it has nothing emotive or interesting in its possession. All heavy-hitting points to make for what should be an amicable opening to a film that bagged Caine his second Oscar, but why hold back the punches if they’ll be let loose anyway? The Cider House Rules, after all, has become somewhat of a relic, and it held such a stature long before it had made the rounds on the DVD nostalgia market.
Much of this dated feel comes from the period setting The Cider House Rules looks to employ. Stuffy boarding houses and a very stereotypical adaptation bring about the usual pre and post-war performances. Alongside the decrepit appearance of Caine, who spends much of his time nurturing the youthful protagonists and hopeful doctors of the next generation, is Tobey Maguire. His rise and rise through the ranks of leading man material had him brush shoulders with some of the best, but it is a façade. To suggest even slightly that there is even a spark of interest here would be futile. Effortless Caine may be, he plays the part he is now tailor-made for. The older, wiser gentleman with a penchant for protecting those closest to him. Maguire and Caine have decent chemistry, but it is one of the few saving graces The Cider House Rules can offer.
Fluttering moments of simple confidence do not bode well for Lasse Hallström, a director whose Hollywood stardom seemed to be a fascinating oddity. He has stumbled his way through life after The Cider House Rules, never entirely capturing the attention of anyone after that brief stint at the top. His career feels like a rather strange odyssey, nobody is quite sure how it happened, but it surely did. The cultural shockwaves he sends out to this day are not exactly seismic, but they do more than nothing. However minimal these moments of ingenuity and creativity are, there are at least a tiny, minute amount found in The Cider House Rules. Nothing to suggest he would be one of the greats of the industry, a titan known by every household in the world, but not forgettable enough to score a goal and then flatline immediately after. We cannot expect too much from the man that made Salmon Fishing in Yemen.
Such moments at the top are brisk, unlike The Cider House Rules. Hallström and his commendable ensemble trudge through rather bleak, unnecessarily lengthy scenes that never amount to anything more than predictable tensions and the soppy style of storytelling the bigwigs at the head of Hollywood were fans of at the time. It has not aged well. To watch one film from this director would be to have seen them all. His lack of variety on projects such as Salmon Fishing in Yemen show an incredible desire to stick within the confines of the genre and the path laid out for him. Sadly, that infects the cast, crew, and any relatively charming moments the film could possibly offer.