Rain Man (1988) Directed by Barry Levinson

Nick :
This was my first time with Rain Man. I had seen some scenes before but not the whole thing, despite Astrid's insistence that we had watched it together. Turns out that was a former boyfriend!

Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt who's car business is going down the pan. On hearing of his estranged father's death, Babbitt heads to Cincinnati for the funeral. Babbitt's  father was rich, but instead of leaving his fortune to his son,  he left it to a trust fund. All Charlie got was his father's old Buick and some pruned roses. Even more shocking to Charlie, he discovers he has an older brother, Raymond (Oscar-winner-for-this-portrayal Dustin Hoffman), and the 3 million dollar inheritance has been left to him. Problem is, Raymond has no concept of money as he's autistic. Charlie kidnaps his brother from his special care home, using his brother as collateral to get half the inheritance money.  So, they drive from Cincinnati to LA in the Buick.

Rain Man is a road movie. It's also trying to make some point about autism (are all autistic people geniuses and we just don't understand them?) Hoffman initially comes off as good but as the film wares on you realize it's a very calculated performance, and that is true of the film as a whole. It has some great scenes but it's pretty poor Hollywood fare.

Cruise has some intermittent love interest in the OK Valeria Golino.  It's interesting to me, but has there ever been an A-list star such as Cruise who has played so many odious characters in mainstream cinema, yet remained so popular? He's good in this film and the reason to watch it.

Levinson has made some good movies (I really like his Diner and Tin Men pictures). Here he seems to have forgotten what economy and pace is with endless shots of the Buick on highways. He's also a little in awe of his actors, especially Hoffman, who he over-indulges. Special mention has to go to Hans Zimmer,  who once again supplies one of the worst scores I've ever heard. It's as if he is insensitive to what's on screen.

So Rain Man, typical Hollywood guff. Pass.

Rain Man was in a double package with Thelma & Louise, so we had to watch this too. I guess it is some kind of a buddies-on-the-road package, Rain Man being the masculine version of the coin (I'm interpreting the DVD distributor's logic here).

Tom Cruise is not my favorite actor. Neither is Dustin Hoffman for that matter. They both smack of over-acting and self-awareness beyond pleasant. Cruise specializes on young ingrown rage, Hoffman on sympathetic handicaps and victims (think of Midnight Cowboys from 1969). This is the stuff that wins Oscars though.

I watched Rain Man prepared for the worst. I had seen it before a long while ago and remembered it as cheaply sentimental.  Yet, there is a hollow harshness about the film from the get go; the look, the music and characters remain in distance. It is as if some mildly autistic inability to portray emotion landed on the whole project.

With everything that I have against this movie, in a reluctant way, I was entertained and touched.
Hoffman is (indeed) endearing as the autistic and long-lost brother of the angry Cruise. I have understood that some of the portrayal of autism is in fact a little unrealistic. It is very Hollywood-like and obviously aspires to normalize the person – what is the obsession to get the autistic person to touch others, go on dates and dance if he has no desire, no emotional interest in those things?

Autism is about communication, about a different kind of existence in the body and expressing towards others. Fascinating. This film it appears, is not so fascinated though, it is more content in asking the simple question: could an asshole learn to love a cute kitten?


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