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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movie Review: RAIN MAN


Rain Man is a 1988 Oscar-winning dramatic film directed by Barry Levinson. The film opens on Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), a hot-headed yuppie who runs an expensive car business. Upon hearing the news of his estranged father's passing, Charlie and his girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) make their way to Cincinnati the funeral. Afterwards, Charlie learns that his inheritance includes only a classic Buick Roadmaster and some prize-winning rosebushes; they $3 million estate, however, has been given to an unnamed beneficiary. Charlie begins to search for answers and learns that the money has gone to Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman), the elder brother Charlie never knew he had. Raymond is institutionalized as a high-functioning autistic, but Charlie decides to take matters into his own hands. In an attempt to attain half of his father's estate, he kidnaps Raymond from the institution and tries to take him back to his home in Los Angeles where a court hearing will determine what is best for Raymond.

This film was the big winner at the Academy Awards in 1989, nabbing eight nominations and four wins (including Best Actor for Hoffman, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture). Although I don't personally think it's the best film from 1988 that I've ever seen - Die Hard, Beetle Juice, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit rank slightly higher - it's still a fascinating watch that borders the lines of a must-see. There are a few issues with the actual storyline, the most pressing being that the film is entirely predictable. We can see from a mile away that Charlie is going to achieve some sort of major personality change as a result of the time he spends with his brother. I feel like I've seen this type of story dozens of times before, so it's not necessarily original. It's just wrapped in a different kind of wrapping paper, so to speak. However, Rain Man works more as a character drama rather than a plot-driven film. It's not about the fact that Charlie is going to have a change of heart; the important aspect is how he reaches that point. In addition, we get to see a change in Raymond's personality. It's not as drastic, but it's enough to be profound by the end of the film.

With character-driven films, acting is key. If an actor can't make us believe the transformation of their character, then the film loses all of its power because it doesn't have an astounding story to fall back on. Fortunately, our two leads are simply fantastic and entirely convincing in their respective roles. Let's start with Hoffman, who grabbed his second Oscar statuette for his turn as the autistic Raymond Babbitt (his first win came for 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer, for those of you who were wondering). Now, here in the 21st century, I couldn't help but recount one particular scene from 2008's Tropic Thunder as I watched Hoffman's performance. One of the central ideas in Tropic Thunder is the idea that so many actors will go ridiculously deep into a role. In the scene, Robert Downey Jr.'s character is explaining to Ben Stiller's character why you should "never go full retard" for a role. When pressed for an explanation, he continues by referencing Rain Man: "Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho'." The fact that Hoffman was referenced goes to show just how dedicated he was to his craft in creating the character Raymond Babbitt. While he does have a couple of over-the-top moments that the Academy tends to love, the real meat behind his performance is the subtlety he brings to the screen. There's a number of little ticks that he gives to Raymond that make the performance stunningly brilliant, and he easily deserved his Oscar recognition.

I'd also like to take a moment to talk about Tom Cruise, the only other main character presented in the film. I know that a lot of people nowadays have issue with Mr. Cruise, and considering his media exposure over the past few years, I can't necessarily blame them. However, none of that should take away the fact that he's a very, very good actor. Sure, he tends to play characters that parallel his own personality, and I feel like his role in Rain Man falls into that category. That being said, I'd easily put his Rain Man performance in my top three favorite Cruise roles, behind only 2004's Collateral and 2008's Tropic Thunder. In this film, he makes Charlie's transformation so real and so visceral that we almost make it right alongside him. I started the film absolutely hating Charlie Babbitt, but by the time the final credits rolled, I wanted to shake his hand. That's saying a lot, to be sure.

Rain Man is definitely a movie you should watch. I wouldn't quite call it a must-see film, but it's pretty damn close. It met every expectation I had of it, and although it didn't grade as highly as I thought it would, it's still a very good film that I'm sure you'd enjoy.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up

1 comment:

  1. I just watched this the other night and I think your review is pretty much spot on. The acting is superb but apart from that the film is pretty predictable and doesn't have much else going for it. The oscar for Hoffman is totally deserved but winning the oscar for best original screenplay??? - I don't think there was much that was original about this story!

    I enjoyed your review!