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Rain Man
1988 - R - 140 Mins.
Director: Barry Levinson
Producer: Mark Johnson
Written By: Ronald Bass, Barry Morrow
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Jerry Molden, John M. Murdock
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Barry Levinson is one of the great screen directors of our time. He's most notable for being able to evoke subtly comedic discussions amongst his leading characters, save the rare occasion when his strained efforts backfire ("Toys" comes to mind). "Rain Man" (1988) is his crowning effort, his best achievement I can think of off-hand. It's considered a drama but it's also a true odd couple comedy, about two opposites who learn they have one common bond: their kinship.

Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise in "Rain Man," but the individual who really lights up the screen and makes us believe is Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, his autistic brother. People consider Raymond a wandering innocent who has no idea what he's doing, but as his friendship with his brother proceeds so does the fact that Raymond, though obviously unable to comprehend all his surroundings, recognizes his brother and the bond between them.

That's not to say Cruise acts bad in this film. I don't like Tom Cruise, specifically because I think he is more than similar to his ignorant character in this film. But because of his personality, Cruise is able to convincingly portray the type of person vital to "Rain Man" -- he's the parallel of the audience. We go into the movie with apprehension and perhaps a little self-assurance, and we come out wholly different and strangely changed. Our perspective is no longer what it was before.

Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, a wealthy car dealer living the high life in California. He's just gotten in a shipment of Ferraris and he's going to make a killing on an upcoming deal for all of them, when his entire background comes back to haunt him in a single unfortunate moment during his newly acquired and quite happy life.

Charlie's father has just died, leaving him an old sports car and rose bushes. But more painful than the fact that his father has died or that he was left simply with a car and some prize-winning rosebushes is the fact that Charlie had tried to put his ill-fated past behind him, and now it has caught up with him again. He has to face the reality of his father once again.

This isn't really evident the first time you watch the movie. Charlie is angered at the fact that he got nothing more than some bushes and a vehicle, sure, but he admits he expected nothing more. What really angers him is that he has to face his father, dead or alive, once more; either through faded memories or by the realization that he is now dead and their friendship was never repaired.

When Charlie finds out that his father's entire estate has been left to a single trustee, he schemes around and unmasks who the trustee really is -- his older brother he never knew he had, Raymond Babbitt (Hoffman), who lives in a homey mental institute and quotes the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello "Who's on first?" charade when he gets nervous.

Charlie confronts his brother, who seems as though he doesn't recognize him. And in a moment of weakness, Charlie kidnaps his brother from his home, drives him back to California, and attempts to squeeze the money out of Raymond, who has no holding on the concept of money at all.

It's not to say that Raymond isn't smart, however. He can count high numbers and calculate mathematical problems in a second. He just can't understand the concept of money.

Raymond also has a terrific brain. He can memorize entire books, including the phone book. While they're at a diner, Raymond notices the waitress' nametag and rambles out her home address and telephone number. "How'd you know that?" she asks.

But just when we start to think that Raymond may be some sort of genius, he demonstrates that he has no concept of reality or how to survive society. He cannot understand why he can go to a local K-Mart to buy underwear instead of the one he's been going to for as long as he can remember. He can't fly on planes because all airlines have had instances of crashing in the past (except an airline in Australia). Raymond won't even drive on a highway -- he makes Charlie take country routes to get where they're going.

He has to watch "The People's Court" and "Jeopardy" on a daily basis. He records every injury inflicted upon him by others in a small notebook. He is a creature of habit -- if he strays from a regular routine the result is catastrophic. He simply cannot comprehend changes.

Charlie takes advantage of Raymond's mathematical skills by taking him to Las Vegas to count cards. After achieving a fortune they are thrown out of the casinos and left to face charges of kidnapping. The problem is, by the time it's all over, Charlie has formed an odd sort of bond with his brother. Long after the laughs settle the emotional impact of the story sinks in.

The ending is the sort of rare conclusion that brings tears to the eyes. Throughout the film, Charlie is an arrogant, ignorant, greedy businessman who cares of no one but himself. By the end, however, he has learned more than he has in his entire lifetime from the brother he never had. And unlike a lot of the buddy films out there, we get to see the bonding between Charlie and his big brother, Raymond, form on a daily basis, until it is brought to a standstill.

Dustin Hoffman gives his best performance in "Rain Man," one of such unmatched strength and brilliance that we often feel that we are really watching an autistic man on screen. Raymond Babbitt is one of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter as a viewer, and though Dustin Hoffman isn't necessarily a favorite actor of mine, I place his performance in "Rain Man" as one of the most convincing and touching performances of all time.

Trying to put the reason that "Rain Man" is so great into words is simply impossible. It's got everything. And as humorous as Raymond Babbitt becomes, he never seems unreal or obnoxious. As I watch him every time I watch the movie, I completely forget Dustin Hoffman is playing him until I mentally remark on how well he is doing so. This is movie magic, folks.

Hollywood has a fascination with characters like Forrest Gump and Raymond Babbitt, but -- even more so than Gump -- Raymond is never annoying. (That's not saying that Gump is, but...Raymond is even more touching and realistic.) Raymond is a fair bit more impaired than Forrest, and we feel for him even more (though which is the better film I could never say).

By all means, see this movie. Drop whatever you're doing and rent it, buy it, watch it over and over. It's amazing. I don't care if I sound like a mainstream critic trying to get my quotes on the new Special Edition box of the DVD (yes, please!), I love this movie and I can't say enough good things about it.

"Rain Man" is a rare cinematic treat. It is funnier than most comedies and more touching than most dramas. It is a film with equally balanced acting, comedy and dramatics that will make you gasp, laugh, and cry. It's one of the most memorable and well-acted films of all time, and it's probably one that will gain even more word of mouth years from now when people consider enough time to have passed for it to suddenly become a classic and not another 80s film. The sad thing is, it isn't.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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