A brief review of the 1988 film Rain Man that was assigned for my film and lit class.
|A winner of four Academy Awards, “Rain Man” is a cinematic tour de force that has entertained and touched the lives of viewers everywhere. Following the death of his father, the egotistical Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is shocked to learn he has only been granted the old man’s car and a few rose bushes, while millions of dollars are left in a trust fund for his long-lost brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) who has lived in a mental institution for most of the brothers’ lives. In order to get his hands on the money, Charlie kidnaps the autistic intellectual Raymond from the Wallbrook institution and they set out on a cross-country road trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. On their journey, Charlie uses Raymond to win money in Vegas, but soon begins to outgrow his myopic self-centered ways, and an earnest camaraderie develops between the estranged brothers. A classic road film, “Rain Man” does not fail to take its viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions as the characters proceed on their passage of self-discovery.
Tom Cruise’s role as an uptight salesman is well played, however nothing compares to Dustin Hoffman’s award winning performance as the “autistic savant”. One can barely imagine the difficulty in mastering the blank, absent look in the eyes of Raymond, yet Hoffman pulls it off flawlessly. It is fortunate that Cruise dominated most of the dialogue throughout the film, or else Hoffman would have completely overshadowed him. The Babbitt brothers as a pair create a kind of dynamic that is rarely mastered in film. Cruise’s frustration with his brother is palpable, gripping and pulling viewers to the edges of their seats with nervousness, and their interactions are sometimes difficult to watch as Hoffman maintains sympathy-bearing innocence.
The scenery plays a large role in the film as the shots switch from the pale desert to the vibrant colors of the palm-lined Vegas boulevards, replacing the lack of conversation that results from Raymond’s inability to communicate effectively. Rapid montages of shots showing geometric shapes and lines on the pavement mirror the chaos that inhabits Raymond’s mind, as he cannot convey the confusion orally. The familiar “road film” shots from the car as it rolls down the desert highway remind one of those in classics such as “Thelma and Louise” and “Bonnie and Clyde.” The sepia tone that remains consistent throughout most of the film also adds to the classic road movie aura.
“Rain Man” was shockingly original despite its staying true to the road film genre. Unlike many road movies which have a tendency to drag out life on the road with overabundant car shots, this movie advances at a comfortable pace with limited dull moments. This film can even come close to being categorized as the male version of Thelma and Louise, where two conflicting personalities set out on a journey, bonding along the way. The only criticism of the motion picture is that the meaning of the “rain man” is revealed too abruptly. The single conversation in which Charlie realizes that his brother is the imaginary friend of his childhood seems forced and crammed in between scenes.
Nevertheless, “Rain Man” is a must-see work of cinematic genius, propelled by the impeccable performances of Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, and the rest of the cast. It sets new standards for film while still portraying the general characteristics of road movies, and will likely influence many films to come. Overall this movie deserves all of the praise it is given.