Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 10.26.13 PMIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant and/or through the iTunes Store? Rain Man is available for rent through both Netflix Watch Instant and the iTunes Store.

Starring: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, & Valeria Golino

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Screenplay by: Ron Bass

Rain Man is a quintessentially 80’s movie. How so? Tom Cruise is a yuppie entrepreneur who has swallowed the ‘greed is good’ mantra hook, line, and sinker. The film mostly takes place along the back roads and small towns of America, which are portrayed in golden, soft tones that celebrate a distinctly Americana image. Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman travel in a 1949 Buick Roadmaster, which came from an era that the young business turks of the 80’s grew up in and that became popular again in our pop culture. The film’s music score by Hans Zimmer contains a wind flute and other instrumentals that were frequently used in 80’s movies (especially those scored by James Horner). At the same time, Rain Man has transcended the era it was made in and is widely regarded as a Hollywood classic. Even if you regard the film as a typically Hollywood, feel-good commercial film, there is no denying that Rain Man is highly entertaining and re-watchable.

Barry Levinson, the director of Rain Man, was one of Hollywood’s most powerful and successful directors (and one of my favorites) during the 1980’s. Beginning with Diner, Levinson quickly cemented his reputation as a director of big budget, feel-good Hollywood films that garnered prestige (AKA Oscars) for the studios. You have undoubtedly seen at least one Levinson film already (The Natural; Tin Men; Good Morning, Vietnam; Avalon; and Bugsy to name a few). However, despite earning many nominations prior to Rain Man, the Academy Award eluded Levinson. All of that changed with this film.

Tom Cruise stars as Charlie Babbitt, a young, brash, arrogant, and hot-tempered Los Angeles car dealer who we find trying to import four Lamborghinis to sell to some customers. Unfortunately for Charlie, he is unable to pass the cars for EPA inspection and he is precariously close to losing the cars and losing his business. During all of this, he is informed that his father has just died. Charlie travels with his girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) to Cincinnati for the funeral and to read his father’s will. To his astonishment, Charlie discovers that his father left him with only his prized rose bushes and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster, which was the cause of Charlie and his father’s estrangement. Charlie is told that the remainder of the estate, valued at $3 million dollars is going to an unnamed beneficiary. Using his slick car salesman skills and charm, Charlie finds out that the unnamed beneficiary is his brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Raymond is autistic and has been living in an institution since Charlie was 2 years old. Bitter about the fact he is receiving no money, Charlie decides to basically kidnap Raymond and take him to Los Angeles where he will wage a custody battle over Raymond for the purpose of getting his half of the $3 million.

Beating out The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, and Working Girl for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Rain Man also earned Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay. In my opinion, Rain Man is one of the few movies that remain deserving of all of its awards even after all these years. It is rare to see a film that captures lightening in a bottle in the sense that every element (story, cinematography, acting, music, etc.) of this film fits together perfectly (or almost perfectly as I will get into when I discuss the screenplay).

Although he had earlier starred in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, Tom Cruise was still not considered a serious actor in Hollywood. That all changed with Rain Man and his performance in this movie remains one of the actor’s most memorable ones he has given. Although Cruise plays a version of the same cocky and confident character he played in Top Gun, Risky Business, The Color of Money, and Cocktail, Charlie Babbitt is a very angry individual whose confidence is not enough to save his business venture and get him by in life. Its like all these characters Cruise has played in the past have finally recognized the virtues of self-reflection and patience. As he spends time with his brother, Charlie undergoes a radical transformation, which Cruise portrays very well.

I think this film gave Tom Cruise the confidence to inhabit his characters more and to be less concerned with his public image as a movie star. In 1989, one year after Rain Man, Cruise starred in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, in which he portrayed Ron Kovic, a physically disabled Vietnam veteran who became a prominent anti-war activist. In the film we see Kovic age, become wheelchair bound, and lose his hair. Cruise abandoned his movie star status and became Ron Kovic. We saw more of this dedication to the craft of acting in later films, but it all started with Rain Man.

What can I say about Dustin Hoffman’s most famous performance that has not already been said by much more eloquent film writers? Prior to Rain Man, people seemed to be unfamiliar with autism and this is evidenced to a small degree in the film, especially in the scene where Charlie and Raymond are in a small town doctor’s office and the doctor mentions that he has read something about autism, indicating that he even doesn’t really know about it much. The particular type of autism featured in Rain Man is an extremely rare disorder called savant syndrome in which people who have it have an amazing memory that is very focused on one area such as memorizing trivia.

It is obvious Hoffman meticulously researched his role and what a role it is. Can there be a juicier type of role for any actor to play? Given the virtuoso performance by Hoffman and even the fact that an iconic actor such as Dustin Hoffman is playing a heavy role of this type demonstrates just how good Tom Cruise was in a role that could and should have been easily overshadowed by his co-star’s performance. I have read some critics who complain that Raymond Babbitt does not connect emotionally with the audience because he lacks any emotion and he fails to undergo his own transformation during the story. I disagree with both assessments. For one, the emotional connection exists between Charlie and Raymond and, specifically, Charlie’s realization that he has a brother and that he loves him. Furthermore, Raymond may not undergo the drastic sort of transformation that his brother does, but he nevertheless experiences a transformation as well. He eventually learns to accept and trust his brother and he learns new experiences from Charlie that he will probably forever cherish (i.e. dancing, realizing that Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on first” routine is a joke, and that K-MART sucks).

And let us not forget the wonderful performance given by Valeria Golino, who plays Charlie Babbitt’s girlfriend, Susanna. Its unfortunate that Golino does not have more screen time than she does, but for those precious moments that she is onscreen, she is just as good as her main co-stars. Especially worth watching are her scenes when she walks out on Charlie in the hotel and when she gives Raymond his first ever kiss.

The screenplay by Ron Bass is a very well-paced story that never slows down for its 2+ hours of running time. Bass does a great job developing Charlie and Raymond’s relationship through action rather than dialogue. For example, the turning point for Charlie when he first begins to feel close to his brother is when he and his brother are in a doctor’s office in a small town. The doctor asks Raymond if he knows what autism is. Ray responds that he does. The doctor then asks Ray if he is autistic and when Ray replies that he is not, we see Charlie watching his brother give his answer and through no dialogue, we can sense Charlie’s mind contemplating the fact that he has a brother who is more than just a trust fund. The script employs an interesting diversity of locations (small towns, diners, Las Vegas, hotels/motels) to create a sense of place, to create a journey for its characters, and again, to develop the brothers’ relationship.

However, the script also has a few, albeit minor, flaws. The first one (and the most minor flaw) is the aforementioned scene in the small town in Oklahoma where Charlie seeks out a doctor to take his brother to. For one, this story fails to clearly establish exactly why Charlie is looking for a doctor. In the previous scene, Charlie has a nervous breakdown after trying and failing to communicate with his brother. He comments that he needs to see a shrink, but when he ends up finding a doctor, the doctor is not a shrink and it appears that the doctor’s visit is meant to diagnose Raymond’s disorder!?! Its already been established that Raymond has autism and that he is incurable so there is no reason why Charlie would take him to see a doctor for it.

The bigger flaw in the script occurs in the climax of the film. With the exception of the final scene in the film, Rain Man completed principal photography before the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. However, with the final scene, Ron Bass delivered a rough cut of the scene literally hours before the strike began and he spent no time on the set to do script revisions. The lack of time spent on the final scene is apparent when you watch the film. Charlie walks Raymond to the train station and sees him off. The scene is low-key and surprisingly lacks emotion given how Charlie is basically giving up his brother. The scene felt hastily put together (which it was) and it did not have the same energy and interesting dialogue as the rest of the film. However, do not let the final scene prevent you from seeing the movie. Everything before it is smart and engaging.

Although Rain Man is large in scope in the sense that Charlie and Raymond traverse across America, the film is really a small one that is about two walled-off souls coming together. Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman give two signature performances for which they will forever be remembered for. In short, Rain Man is a must-watch classic.

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