Director: Barry Levinson
Reviewed: 2 October 2013
I finally caught up with Rain Man, and the film surprised me with its unlikable lead character of Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), a hustling car salesman in California who is drawn back into the orbit of his family in Ohio after a death in the family. Upon his visit to Ohio, Charlie meets Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), a brother that was hidden from him by his family. Raymond is a high-functioning autistic-savant who has never left the grounds of his institution. Raymond organizes his day by television shows, verbal routines such as reciting "Who's on first?" by Abbott and Costello when upset, and clinging to the world that he knows. In an act of revenge against being cut out of a family will that leaves millions to Raymond, Charlie takes Raymond out of his routines and embarks upon a road trip with him to the west coast. The trip proves to be a powerful one for both Charlie and Raymond.
Hoffman's performance is the standout, winning him an Oscar for Best Actor, but he has a great performance from Tom Cruise to play against. Hoffman's Raymond is full of gestures and awkwardness and humor and emotional outbursts while Cruise's Charlie embodies rage and regret, anger at himself and his family. The drive forces Charlie to slow his life pace down to accommodate his brother, and the film's best scenes involve Charlie processing what it means for him to have a brother. The strength of this film comes from those performances and Levinson's restrained direction. There is no nefarious villain in the film. Charlie's decision on how to best help himself and Raymond at the end of the film has its own power without an adversary. The final scene at the train station is a marvel, and Rain Man is a deeply sad film because of the pain of lost time and lost connection. Hoffman always lights upon the humanity of Raymond with his Judge Wapner quotations and K-Mart wardrobe choices. However, Cruise provides the real emotional power as a man finding something outside of himself to believe in and to love. Empathy for another person. How far Charlie has come from the surface reality of Lamborghinis and wheeling and dealing of the opening scene.
I do not know if the film plays as well in 2013 as it did in 1988, but I found Rain Man incredibly moving and profoundly sad in the best way, rooted in its characters and in its world.
I hope for Charlie and Raymond and their future as brothers.