Treat (Matthew Modine) and Phillip (Kevin Anderson) are orphans who live in a ramshackle house in Newark. Phillip has convinced his brother that he will die if he goes outside, so Treat supports him by working the streets as a pickpocket and thief. Their lives are turned upside down when they meet Harold (Albert Finney), a gangster who was once an orphan himself. After Treat's scheme to kidnap him and hold him for ransom falls apart, Harold turns into a benevolent father, dispensing encouragement to the love-starved Phillip and paying one-thousand dollars a week to Treat to serve as his bodyguard.

Based on Lyle Kessler's 1985 play, Orphans is a wildly theatrical movie that demands patience on the part of viewers. Midway in the story, after he has effectively established Treat and Phillip's despair and deprivation, director Alan J. Pakula hits high stride by showing how Harold throws a lifeline to these two desperate souls. In a generous and compassionate manner, this mystery man helps Phillip overcome his fears of the outside world and tries to teach Treat how to combat his violent feelings. The sterling performances of Modine, Anderson and Finney gather in intensity as the story line moves along to an eloquent and emotionally resplendent finale. There is a death, a cry of pain and an embrace that helps push the darkness away. We are compelled to see that all moments are key moments, that those who are unable to accept love are lost forever, and that we all need someone to keep our spirits up — someone we can count on. In this film, the orphans are graced and so are we.