October 05, 1987 12:00 PM

For a movie that mostly cages three actors (and the audience) in a shabby house in Newark, Orphans covers a lot of territory. What we’ve got here is a movie about the universal human need to belong, even in a savage, solitary world. Hey, wait, don’t nod off. Orphans, adapted by Lyle Kessler from his 1985 play, may rattle with symbols and metaphors out of Pinter, Mamet and Shepard, but it also resounds with freshly observed truth. Two brothers, played by Matthew (Full Metal Jacket) Modine and Kevin (Risky Business) Anderson, live alone. Modine robs to keep them in their favorite foods: mayonnaise and tuna fish. Anderson, believing he’s allergic to outdoor air, stays inside like a cornered rat. One night Modine brings home a spiffily dressed drunk, intending to hold him for ransom. By morning the stranger has taken over their lives. The drunk is actually a Chicago mobster, and, as played by Albert Finney in a riveting, robustly funny performance, he is the ultimate Big Daddy. Finney, proclaiming himself an orphan with affection for all Dead End Kids, sets up Modine as his henchman and provokes Anderson to make his first tentative steps out of the house. Director Alan (Sophie’s Choice) Pakula, mining every ounce of humor in the script, makes these three lost boys a surreal and surprisingly touching family unit. The violent climax, with the brothers united in a cry of pain, is shattering. In this darkly comic madhouse of a film, Finney, Modine and Anderson accomplish what few actors ever do: They raise the spirit and rend the heart. (R)

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