Unlike the movie adaptation of The World According To Garp and Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules boasts author John Irving as screenwriter. But this doesn't mean that the usual pitfalls of pruning 800 pages of literature down to two hours of screentime are avoided. Maguire, who's cornered the market in young men wise beyond their years (The Ice Storm, Pleasantville, Ride With The Devil), plays Homer Wells as taciturn and thoughtful. But, beyond his MD-level knowledge of gynaecology, obstetrics and paediatrics, Homer is also an utter ingénu. Caine's Dr Wilbur Larch is a Dickensian creation, benign and content in his own little world. Only his warnings to Homer about the cruel state of "out there" and his ether addiction indicate more controlling and tragic sides.
The rapport between Larch and Homer is the film's strongest point and provides its most provocative and humorous moment. But even this central dialogue is frustratingly truncated. Homer's incursion into the world - - his introduction to apple-picking, race issues, movies and sexuality - - feels like a neatly plotted shorthand for his coming of age.
But internal struggles are lost for the most part. Maguire has presence, but he's fighting a losing battle to try and fill out Homer's worldview. Despite being fatherly to his orphan hordes, Larch had taken a paternal interest in his charge, in who he sees a successor and a repository for his values. Larch's efforts to lure Homer back from the oh-so-symbolic orchard amount to him trying to stop the teen coming to his own understanding of the world. At one point, tragedy makes Homer reassess the fate designed for him - - yet again the film leaves us yearning for elaboration. Lacking space for the book's exploration of Homer's soul-searching, the film ultimately carries a simple, conservative message about maintaining the status quo.
Despite the powerful presence of Caine and Maguire's meditative humanity, The Cider House Rules struggles to go beyond Hollywood pathos-mongering. Without the novel's character depth or quirky humour, the film is just a well-crafted celebration of cosy conservatism.