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OBPC #61: Rain Man, 1988

January 27, 2014

Rating:  3 stars (out of 4)

Rain Man (1988): Dir. Barry Levinson.  Written by: Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow, from a story by Morrow.  Starring: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, and Jack Murdock.  Rated R for language and brief nudity.  Running time: 133 minutes.

rainmanOvercoming all sorts of production drama (at one point Tom Cruise was set to play the autistic savant and Dustin Hoffman the self-centered blowhard), Rain Man went on to become the highest-grossing film of 1988.  Despite the numerous parodies over the years, it’s still an entertaining and moving portrait of one man’s personal redemption.

Charlie Babbitt is attempting to close an important deal for his car business when he receives the news of his estranged father’s passing.  Expecting to inherit his father’s impressive wealth, he learns that the money has instead been placed in trust for the autistic brother Raymond he never knew he had.  Undaunted, Charlie effectively kidnaps Raymond in an attempt to extort the money, but comes to change his mind over the course of a road trip.

As a story of brothers, the film finds exceptional chemistry between its two stars.  It’s a credit to the writing and acting that enables the “straight” performance of Tom Cruise to balance out the mannered behavior of Dustin Hoffman, with much of the humor coming from Cruise’s reactions.  And Charlie’s transformation is by no means a swift one—he makes some seriously coldhearted decisions, only gradually coming to love his brother genuinely.

It’s true that certain moments come off much too precious, as when Raymond accidentally stumbles upon his brother and girlfriend mid-coitus.  Sometimes Levinson seems too focused on creating these scenes, when he’s so good at fostering the interactions between the brothers–the moments where Charlie discovers his own capacity for love.  And I appreciate the subtle touch with the cinematography, with the brightness of the American plains foreshadowing Charlie’s awakening as a decent human being.

Rain Man satisfies as a road movie, a comedy, and a character study.  And it’s always nice to see Tom Cruise, pre-parody of himself.

Next film: Driving Miss Daisy, 1989

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