5 stars – How could it be anything less?
You don’t have to be a savant to appreciate the brilliance of this movie. I took a trip into the classics and watched this 1988 road comedy-drama for the first time, at the behest of blog tsar Jock (us both being Tom Cruise fans). It did not disappoint and has aged as well as its cast which include Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbitt and Dustin Hoffman as his estranged autistic savant brother Raymond. I can’t believe it was filmed 2 years after Top Gun, and that Cruise’s filmography now spans over 40 years! Speaking of longevity, the abundant retro transition scene music in Rain Man was orchestrated by none other than Hans Zimmer, who it appears cut his teeth in the 80’s synth wave genre – alas I digress!
This was a heart-warming, funny and deeply serious film and I found it easy to stay emotionally attached to all the characters from start to end. The film begins with Tom Cruise fast talking his way around the various stakeholders of his burgeoning collectables business. From the outset its clear he’s a cocky and self-interested macho man looking to make waves in a big way. His girlfriend Susanna, played by the wonderful Valeria Golino, tries to temper the worst aspects of his personality but to little avail.
Charlie then discovers his father has recently passed away, and has bequeathed his $3m inheritance to a small mental institution in Cincinnati called ‘Wallbrook’. Travelling to Wallbrook with Susanna he then meets his estranged brother Raymond, whom we are told is a ‘high functioning autistic savant’. Much is made these days of actors portraying individuals with disabilities, as it can be fraught with insensitivity, however Hoffman’s portrayal I think is one that shows a lot of respect, and undeniably leads to many very funny scenes with Cruise.
The story broadly follows the brothers travelling from Cincinatti to Los Angeles as Charlie attempts to ransom Raymond for part of their late fathers’ estate. Charlie attempts to drag Raymond onto a flight to LA to which Raymond spat’s out the various flight accident fatalities of all the major US airlines. All flights crash right? Not Qantas! as Raymond reminds us, much to the delight of all Australian viewers including myself, and much to the chagrin of Charlie who now has to drive them both on secondary roads, as interstate highways are, of course, also death-traps.
There are countless scenes where Raymond’s unique disposition leads to comical situations; Charlie and Susanna are being intimate and Raymond wonders into the room imitating their love making, his daily need to watch the 5pm news leads them to practically break into a stranger’s living room, constantly saying ‘uh-oh’ whenever they are close to missing another of his myriad daily routines. These scenes are sprinkled in amongst a serious plot that sees Cruise transform from a narcissistic and crude bully to a both loyal and sensitive brother. One scene in particular I found especially moving where Charlie discovers that his imaginary friend as a child, the ‘Rain Man’ was in reality his older brother and protector ‘Raymond’ before his father institutionalised him due to his fears of accidentally hurting himself or Charlie.
During the film I kept thinking that Cruise makes this same character transformation again and again in his other roles, from Top Gun to Jerry Maguire to A Few Good Men, he changes from the cocky upstart to the humbled gentlemen. They are all very similar characters, yet I always find myself getting swept up in it all. Hoffman deservedly won the Oscar for his efforts, but Cruise has to be acknowledged his role too. To be sure, I also thought his jumping on Oprah’s couch back in the day was a ground-breaking role for him.
The scene that gets the most playback these days are those of Raymond as the mastermind card counter in Las Vegas, where Charlie leverages his brothers’ eidetic memory to repay his creditors. Its an awesome scene to be sure, but the deeper moment is afterwards when it becomes clear that for the first time since they met, they are now friends as well as brothers. Neither brother understands people, albeit for quite different reasons, but now at least they understand each other. Hoffman and Cruise have a great chemistry and it was very moving in the final scenes where Charlie made the decision to forego a big money payoff in favour of continuing relationship with his brother (I didn’t tear up, but word on the grapevine is that Jock did).
Perhaps my favourite part of the movie was actually the ending. As Charlie puts Raymond on a train back to Cincinatti, the film ends with a simple promise from Charlie to Raymond that he’ll be seeing him in 2 weeks – or more accurately 1,209,600 seconds as Raymond quips.
Sweet, funny and a neat way to end a really classic flick.
By Nick Tankard