Rain Man - 1988
Rain Man was written by Ronald Bass (Dangerous Minds) and Barry Morrow (Rain Man) and is directed by Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam). This movie would go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards and winning the awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor in a leading role for Dusting Hoffman. The rest of the cast is comprised of Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, and Gerald R. Molen. The story centers around a self-centered car salesperson finding out he has an autistic brother who just inherited his father’s fortune.
Bass and Morrow delivered a well-balanced script, tip-toeing the line between a comedy and a drama. They gave Tom Cruise’s character a great character arc, going from a self-centered loner, focused on getting the inheritance money, to a loving, caring brother. It was slightly hard to watch in the beginning because he has zero patients towards the eccentric behavior his autistic brother had, always treating him as if he is faking his symptoms. However, as they spend more time together, we see the brotherly bond gradually grow. And Cruise starts to adapt to all the “quirks” his brother has, thanks to his condition.
Quick note: this arc wouldn’t work without Tom Cruise’s performance. In the beginning, his temper was set off in an instant, always letting everything get to him. Toward the end, he is embracing the chaos around him trying to make light of the situation.
Dustin Hoffman has one of the most diverse resumes in Hollywood today, with the list of award-worthy performances being too long to write. In Rain Man, he plays Raymond Babbitt, the autistic genius who could instantly solve the most complicated math-calculations and memorize entire phone directories. He studied a real-life savant, Kim Peek and based his mannerisms and speaking patterns on him. What I love about this performance is that he humanized what many people considered a stigmatized issue: mental illnesses. Many people felt comfortable talking about their family members who have autism because it was now in the zeitgeist due to Hoffman’s performance.
While Rain Man is far from perfect it, thrives thanks to the direction of Levinson combined with the cinematography of John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road). Seale was also nominated for his work in this movie. They perfectly constructed a cross-country road-trip for their protagonist, taking them from my hometown of Cincinnati all the way to Los Angeles, getting visually compelling shots along the way. It may be a bit of a biased choice, but my favorite shot is of Cruise, Hoffman, and Golino driving through the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge here in Cincinnati.
One of the best parts of the road trip comes when they hit the casinos in Las Vegas. While it has been made fun of in multiple movies and TV shows, it still holds up to this day. Not only do we get a great montage of them getting a new wardrobe, a big deal for Hoffman’s character, we also get them playing cards. I think Las Vegas probably had an influx of people trying to count cards and getting caught.
Rain Man is a beautiful study of brother relationships, combined with mental illness. Watching the relationship between Cruise and Hoffman organically grow was honestly heartwarming. However, by far the best aspect of this movie has to be the honest look at mental illness, showcasing the humanity in what we consider to be “abnormal” and letting us know that deep down we are all capable of loving and being loved. Hoffman’s performance is why I love movies.
Rain Man is currently streaming on HBO Go. It’s two-hours and fourteen minutes of fun. Or hundred and thirty-four minutes or eight thousand and sixty-four seconds of fun.
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