The reviews of Lasse Hallstrom's The Cider House Rules are quite varied, to say the very least. While there is little argument concerning the aesthetic quality of the film, there are an overwhelming number of arguments concerning the political stance of the picture. Some critics believe the film is blatantly pro-choice and promotes abortion as the only option in the case of an unintended pregnancy. Others believe that given some thematic aspects of the movie (like Homer's belief that he is "happy to be alive, under any circumstances"), it maintains a pro-life bias. While John Irving (screenwriter) probably wanted to advocate an implicit message for reproductive freedom, a tremendous amount of debate has surrounded the film because of the controversial issue that it addresses. Oftentimes, reviewers of The Cider House Rules seem to lose or forget the greater thematic element of charting one's own destiny among the political rhetoric. Regardless of the political leanings of the film, there is little question that according to critics, Michael Caine has performed one of the best roles of his lifetime as Dr. Larch. Responses to Tobey Maguire's portrayal of Homer Wells are varied; some consider it lukewarm while others believe his steady, calm demeanor is perfect for the characterization Irving sought for Homer. Nearly all of the reviews regard some select qualities of the film with merit, distinguishing The Cider House Rules as a film that will certainly raise eyebrows in some way, shape, or form for many years to come.
- Berardinelli, James. "Top 10 of 1999," Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Halstrom. Reelviews.net 1999. http://www.reelviews.net/movies/c/cider.html
- Berardinelli has nothing but good things to say about the acting, cinematography, and overarching storylines in The Cider House Rules. He calls it a "beautiful, emotionally resonant" film. One of the most significant points that Berardinelli makes repeatedly is the fact that he appreciated so much the fact that Irving and Hallstrom have created a picture that could have veered so easily into the territory of "unbearable melodrama," but tastefully did not. He also praises the pace at which the film proceeds, calling it "not so slow that audiences will lose interest, but not so fast that the narrative begins to break down." Ultimately, Berardinelli looks at all the aspects of the film, from the actors' nuanced performances to the subtle way in which the director has crafted an emotional story that feels genuine, and titles The Cider House Rules Rules "a motion picture of visual splendor and emotional depth."
- Bruce, David. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. HollywoodJesus.com 22 February 2000. http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/cider_house.htm
- HollywoodJesus conducts movie reviews with the intention of providing "Pop Culture from a Spiritual Point of View." Bruce's sub-heading calls Cider House, "An amazingly beautiful film about the incredible ugliness of abortion." Spirituality and calling abortion ugly might lead one to believe that Bruce's review is overwhelmingly pro-life, but, instead, it offers a perception of the movie that values the symbolism of character names and different events that occur throughout the movie. Bruce even opens his review with the statement, "thank you John Irving for giving the world so much food for thought. You have brought forth a motion picture that every high schooler and college student should see and discuss," because of these perceptions.
- Conner-Sax, Kiersten. "My Life as an Orphan: a Review of The Cider House Rules," dir. Lasse Halstrom. Newenglandfilm.com January 2000. http://www.newenglandfilm.com/news/archives/00january/ciderhouse.htm
- Conner-Sax reflects on the dullness and tedium of the film in her review, calling it a "well-intentioned, visually lush film with an unfortunate emotional flatness at its core." She praises the lush New England backdrop, especially the quaint St. Cloud's train station where John Irving himself makes a cameo, yet finds fault with almost every other aspect of the film. She articulates that the character of Homer Wells lacks "sentimentality" and that his expression remains quite the same throughout the film, regardless of what activity he is engaging in. However, she does not blame Tobey Maguire for this portrayal, but John Irving himself, who she holds responsible for writing this role in this way. Conner-Sax also pokes fun at Charlize Theron's depiction of Candy Kendall, remarking about her persistently perfect platinum blonde hair and red lipstick.
- Corliss, Richard. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Halstrom. Time December 1999. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,992828,00.html
- Corliss's review is a bit hard to interpret. It was short and to the point, and provided a partially lukewarm, partially commendable evaluation. "The mood is warm and precise," Corliss explains, and he applauds the film's "subtle strengths." However, Corliss is also a bit apathetic about the storyline, saying that the film "lets the characters carry the story without allowing the actors to push too hard." He seems to be unexcited about the performances of the actors and settles on a review that is short and subdued.
- Dreher, Rod. "'Cider House's' Abortion: Right vs. What Works." Rev. of The Cider House Rules, by John Irving. Christian Science Monitor 7 Feb. 2000: 11.
- Dreher demonizes the film's concept of morality. He says that the moral behind The Cider House Rules (and, indeed, behind its title) is that rules created by someone from outside the society (or rather, rules created by a moral code with which the society does not agree) should not and do not apply to those within the society. The workers living in the cider house do not relate to the rules which have been posted for them -- these rules do not conform to the life they would like to live. Therefore, they ignore them. Dreher's argument is summed up when he says, "The movie utterly fails, though, to account for the enormous implications of dethroning 'the law'." Dreher argues that asking "What works?" instead of "What's right?" will lead to the justifying of sins.
- Fisch, Audrey. "Abortion at the Movies: 'Cider House' Fails Where 'High Fidelity' Rules." Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Salon.com 15 May 2000. http://archive.salon.com/mwt/feature/2000/05/15/abortion/
- A writer with pro-choice leanings, Fisch declares that Cider House "certainly works hard to remind us about the agonies our society endured when abortion was a crime." Fisch's review is unique because she offers a comparison of Cider House to High Fidelity, a movie which she claims includes only a three-minute plot line about abortion but still treats the topic more appropriately because it speaks of abortion "in a context free of dogma and high drama." Fisch claims that Cider House, though officially declared the pro-choice film of the year, actually condemns the women who receive abortions (and even those who perform abortions) in this film for one reason or another. For example, Candy's abortion undergoes no immediate consequences. When Wally returns from the service, however, he is paralyzed from the waist down -- she will probably never be able to have children with him now. In the end, Fisch believes that Cider House "doesn't deviate from the basic script that says women who exercise the right to choose are inexorably stained and deserving of punishment."
- Graham, Bob. "Dickens' Spirit Guides 'Cider House.'" Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. San Francisco Chronicle 17 December 1999. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/1999/12/17/DD24871.DTL
- Graham's review argues that the performances of the actors, Lasse Halstrom's directing, and the sweeping American storyline add up to create a film that brings "an audience close to tears." Graham calls specific attention to the way that the subject of abortion is dealt with in a gentle manner that "is never strident" and never feels like a sermon. The author draws many parallels between the story of The Cider House Rules and the works written by Dickens, including the way in which social issues, such as abortion, are not "shied away from." Graham also points out that Hallstrom and Irving did a great job of putting the divisive subject of abortion in a "compelling context."
- Greene, Ray. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Reel.com 1999. http://www.reel.com/movie.asp?MID=128195&buy=open&Tab=reviews&CID=13
- Greene places a heavy emphasis on abortion rights as the theme of Cider House. The first two paragraphs of the review accuse the entertainment industry of treating this particular issue quite lightly when compared relatively to the liberal agenda the industry is charged with possessing. Therefore, he believes Cider House is a film that deliberately treats abortion as a "good" choice. Nevertheless, he likes the film and claims it portrays both sides of abortion as an issue, especially given Homer's pro-life stance. Generally speaking (and in conclusion), Greene feels that "The Cider House Rules offers a gentle but passionate plea for tolerance and understanding" of both sides of the reproductive freedom argument.
- Knowles, Dana. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. AboutFilm.com December 1999. http://www.aboutfilm.com/movies/c/ciderhouserules.htm
- Knowles multi-faceted review tackles the issues of sorrow, conflict, compromise (or lack thereof), and growth that are ever-so-apparent in The Cider House Rules. She concludes her commentary by stating, "Anyone with a reasonable tolerance for artfully rendered sentiment and philosophical contemplation will find more to like than not," which is an ideal conclusion, especially considering that her review thoughtfully acknowledges the treatment of that sentiment and contemplation as graceful and "experiential." Her comments are objective and regard the film as a work of entertainment/art instead of as a political statement.
- Millar, Jeff. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Houston Chronicle December 1999. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/main/407109.html
- Millar's article brings up a few significant points about the issue of abortion. First of all, he questions how Homer Wells is able to object so strongly to performing abortions when "he has no life away from the orphanage and, it would seem, no input of ideas or information other than from Dr. Larch and the nurses." Millar also has a problem with Dr. Larch's motto throughout the film, "Be of use." He states that there is an issue with this motto and the fact that Dr. Larch is a pro-choice advocate, claiming, "No one can be truly morally responsible, Irving argues, without the freedom to make choices. By analogy, that makes the merchant who padlocks his store more immoral than the citizen who chooses not to rob it." Millar states that the film on the whole, aside from his issues with how the subject of abortion is dealt with, is slow, overly sweet, and boring.
- Murray, Noel. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Nashville Scene 17 January 2000. http://www.filmvault.com/filmvault/nash/c/ciderhouserulesth1.html
- Murray's review is short but sweet, chock-full of important revelations about Cider House. He claims that as a pro-choice film, Cider House does endorse safe and legal abortion; however, Murray makes the other important claim that this is not all that the film endorses. Murray believes "The Cider House Rules could be more rightly described as a film about the pain of choice -- about what we're supposed to do with all our free will." He touches on the themes of morality as well as the biblical symbolism of the apple orchard setting. Murray states that Homer learns "inaction is itself a choice." Ultimately, the review is positive, describing the film as containing "breathtaking demonstrations of how theoretical problems resonate in the real world," and declaring that these demonstrations are "never less than invigorating."
- Null, Christopher. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Halstrom. Filmcritic.com 1999. http://www.filmcritic.com/misc/emporium.nsf/reviews/The-Cider-House-Rules
- Null barely has a good thing to say about The Cider House Rules. He berates the film for its slow nature and lack of interesting content and believes that John Irving took too many indulgent liberties while creating the movie script from his novel. Null explains, "I can't even make it sound interesting, let alone exciting." The only positive things that Null has to say were regarding the performances of the actors and actresses. He appreciated Tobey Maguire's portrayal of "brooding" Homer Wells and praised Michael Caine as a "surprisingly effective" Dr. Larch. Overall, Null devalued the film and the message that it attempts to send to viewers.
- Prizer, John. "An Attractive Cider House Built on Moral Quicksand." Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. National Catholic Register 9-15 January 2000. http://www.prolife.com/CiderHouseRules.html
- Given that this review is republished on the Pro-Life America website, it unmistakenly bashes Cider House for containing overwhelmingly pro-choice political rhetoric. Prizer does state that the presentation of the pro-choice argument is "well thought-out" but still chastises Larch for all of his rule-making and -breaking. Additionally, Prizer believes that while the story attempts to market itself with a "coming-of-age" theme, the "coming-of-age" journey manipulates the audience to view abortion in a positive light. There is sufficient evidence for this argument; however, Prizer never offers a counter-argument to consequently argue against, probably because he presumed it would be too difficult to refute. Surprisingly, Prizer does mention the film's aesthetics and seems to make a legitimate attempt at reviewing the movie from a more traditional standpoint towards the end of the commentary.
- Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Childcare Action Project: Christian Analysis of American Culture 2 March 2000. http://www.capalert.com/capreports/ciderhouserules.htm
- The Childcare Action Project releases an "Entertainment Media Analysis Report" as "A service to parents and grandparents." In other words, the site offers a short analysis of the film and then categorizes and scores inappropriate elements of the film according to the acronym WISDOM (W=Wanton Violence/Crime, I=Impudence/Hate, S=Sex/Homosexuality, D=Drugs/Alcohol, O=Offense to God, M=Murder/Suicide). The analysis of individual elements offers lengthy lists of specific parts of the movie that are undoubtedly presented subjectively, without regard to the reasons some of these elements were included in the story. Ironically, the reviewer comments on the objectivity of their analysis model, because while the film is supposedly "artless" filth in the reviewer's eyes, it still fits nicely into the scoring range for a PG-13 rating. The review itself is filled with quotes and jargon that charges the film as immoral and even cites Bible passages as a mechanism for justifying the argument.
- Walsh, David. "Quite Obedient Really." Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. World Socialist Website 22 February 2000. http://wsws.org/articles/2000/feb2000/cide-f22.shtml
- A cynical article that addresses generalized themes of rule-making versus rule-breaking and the construction of an individual moral code rather than the specific issue of abortion. Walsh does not, by any means, ignore the issue of abortion in his review. Instead of engaging in a politically-driven rant about whether the film's treatment of abortion is appropriate or inappropriate, Walsh ties the issue into his belief that Hallstrom's work lacks "genuine unconventionality in a film formally advocating the unconventional." Ironically, Walsh's perception of the film is unconventional not only in terms of content but also in terms of aesthetics; he declares that "Any hopes aroused by a certain Scandinavian rawness to the cinematography are largely disappointed." He even criticizes the Academy Award-nominated score, calling it "irritating and obtrusive."
Eval. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. FilmValues December 2000. http://www.filmvalues.com/Review.cfm?RecordID=758
Thomas, Kevin. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Los Angeles Times 10 December 1999. http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie000406-100.story
Zacharek, Stephanie. Rev. of The Cider House Rules, dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Salon.com 25 January 2000. http://archive.salon.com/ent/movies/review/2000/01/25/cider_house/