Everybody Loves Rain Man
Occasionally Hollywood manages to get it right and deliver a movie that is not only commercially entertaining but also educational in its subject matter. One such movie is "Rain Man" starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, a movie which not only won the Oscar for Best Picture but also showed that a movie can have everything a decent storyline, fine performances, humour, emotion, drama, despair and make them work in perfect harmony to make a touching yet entertaining experience
When Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise - Cocktail) discovers that the huge inheritance he believed he was entitled to has been put into trust for an autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman - Tootsie), that he didn't even know existed he takes matters into his own hands. Kidnapping Raymond from the care home he's lived in for the most of his life, the two go on a road trip back to Los Angeles, and learn about each other and life along the way.
On the surface the storyline to "Rain Man" may seem just a simple tale of greed, but below the surface there is a much greater story, one of a journey of understanding, compassion and learning that touches us, the audience, from start to finish. There are no clever twists or cunning ploys which make you wonder what is going to happen next, it is the sheer beauty of the developing relationship between the two brothers especially that of Charlie as not only does he realise that he loves his brother but also his understanding of the mental affliction which Raymond lives with day in day out. It is this journey that makes you sit there watching every moment of "Rain Man", taking pleasure in the littlest things which although not played for humour makes you smile but at the same time giving you a small insight into what Autism is all about.
But "Rain Man" is not perfect and at times the way director Barry Levinson headlines the emotion he wants to draw from the audience is embarrassingly obvious, even so it works and it does achieve its goal. It also sometimes feels that Levinson dwells too long on a scene where the emotional punch has been delivered and this dragging out makes it lose its effectiveness. This need to overly dwell is part of the reason that "Rain Man" feels uncomfortably long at 128 minutes and just cutting out some of these moments would have helped to not only make the movie shorter but also move at a much more consistent pace.
Now I will readily admit that I know very little about autism and cannot think of a single person that I have met who suffers from this, but for me the character of Raymond and also the performance of Dustin Hoffman in this role is probably the biggest reason why "Rain Man" was such a huge success on it's release and why I still enjoy watching it now. Sometimes I feel that the level of affliction Raymond suffers from is a bit over the top but even so it is an amazingly interesting character which helps the audience understand how Autism can affect someone. It is also testament to Dustin Hoffman as an actor that he manages to portray such a memorable character without constantly over egging it, from the nervous ticks, to the need for routine and most impressively his mental ability with numbers as well as remembering things. Not only does he achieve great characterisation but he also keeps it going throughout "Rain Man", never lapsing for a moment.
For Tom Cruise this was a role which proved that whilst he could deliver the over top, cocky performances such as those in "Top Gun" and "Cocktail" he could also do a reasonable job of drama. Coming in between "Cocktail" and "Born on the Fourth of July", Rain Man" was a huge stepping stone which although still relied on Cruise's ability to be over the top also allowed him to demonstrate that he didn't need to be so flamboyant and basically cheesy. For me the best parts of Cruise's performance appear later on in the movie as his understanding of what looking after someone with Autism entails, he manages to say so much with a simple expression rather than his usual grin. That is not to say his performance is perfect and sometimes you get the feeling he was not so much in awe of Hoffman but trying to show off in front of a peer. Is there anyone else in "Rain Man", well yes most notably the lovely Valeria Golino as Charlie's girlfriend but to be honest "Rain Man" is about Charlie and Raymond and their bond.
Whilst I have already criticised director Barry Levinson for a couple of flaws which spoil this movie slightly I will applaud him for managing to deliver a movie which is as much entertaining as it is educational. You get a sense that he wanted to make a movie which raised awareness of autism with out being overly factual and he certainly does this brilliantly. Also the way he manages to make moments funny with out feeling like he is mocking this illness, such as when Raymond walks into Charlie's bedroom whilst he is having sex is humorous and helps lighten the mood of "Rain Man".
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Rain Man" has its flaws it is still one of the best movies I have seen which manages to combine entertainment with education. The two best things about "Rain Man" are the brilliant journey of understanding and Hoffman's performance, which even now after 20 years and numerous watches I still enjoy. Even Cruise puts in a performance which for those who dislike him would be reasonably surprised at. I actually find it hard to say if you like such and such then you will more than likely enjoy this as other than the loosely related "I am Sam" I cannot think of another similar movie to compare it to.