Director: Barry Levinson.
Screenplay: Barry Morrow, Ronald Bass.
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, Jack Murdock, Michael D. Roberts, Bonnie Hunt, Ralph Seymour, Lucinda Jenney, Beth Grant, Barry Levinson.
I must have been about ten or eleven when Rain Man was released and I remember enough about this time that it was seemingly heralded as a modern classic. The fact that it went on to win several oscars – including Best Picture – would further back this up. In hindsight, it’s not the classic that its proclaimed to be but still remains a solid human drama.
Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a self-centred car salesman who discovers that his recently deceased father has left his fortune to his older, autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) – that he didn’t know he had. In a bid to get his hands on the money, he kidnaps his brother but rather than it turning into a money making scheme, Charlie finds himself bonding with Raymond on their cross-country journey.
On the surface, Rain Man comes off as a film about family ties, responsibilities and an exploration of learning disabilities. This is true to a great extent but essentially it’s a road movie with two mismatched characters and actors. Hoffman delivers another masterful performance and one that gained him his second Best Actor Oscar after “Kramer Vs Kramer” in 1979. There’s a real sensitivity to his performance, which in turn, brings a lot of humour. The humour can sometimes come across as unintentional but that’s all the more credit to Hoffman’s abilities. As for Cruise, he’s all cocksure arrogance – like most of his performances throughout the 80’s – but he’s perfectly fitting and delivers one of the more grounded and mature performances of his career. He plays off Hoffman brilliantly and after playing alongside Paul Newman in “The Color Of Money” two years previously, this marked the second time that Cruise held his own against two of the screen greats – the two of them also on Oscar winning form at the time. Behind the camera, Levinson does an admirable job but his main strengths lie in capturing the subtleties of the performances. Anything else other than that is generic filmmaking. That’s not to say that it’s poor. It far from that, but I wonder whether it was deserving of a Best Director Oscar. Other candidates from that year included Martin Scorsese for “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Alan Parker for “Mississippi Burning“. At least two, that could arguably have taken the award. However, this is the type of material that the Academy laps up; it’s a difficult subject in highlighting the complexities of autism and although it’s one of very few film’s to tackle it, it doesn’t provide any answers and doesn’t probe as well as it should. Maybe the lack of probing is exactly the point? Autistic savants can’t be understood and it confirms that through Cruise’s frustrated character. Either way, I found that it became a little contrived and formulaic. This is a small gripe though, as the journey that these two go on is filled with humour and pathos and manages to be both touching and emotionally uplifting.
A thoughtful and affecting story that benefits from exemplary performances and great chemistry from the two leads.