Nearly 23 years since its original release, most fans look back fondly on RAIN MAN as they remember the incredible performance from Dustin Hoffman as the autistic Raymond Babbitt. Many autistic or mentally handicapped characters have been depicted on film, but none are more endearing to the American public than Raymond. This has a lot do with Hoffman, but it has more to do with the script from Ronald Bass, which delicately weaves the pompous, immature Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) and Raymond together as perfect, ying-yang opposites. It allows the audience to keep their sympathy for Raymond as well as their disdain for Charlie in check while they follow these two on their road trip from Cincinnati to Los Angeles.
People don’t usually think of RAIN MAN as a road trip film, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s also a fascinating character study of the self-centered Charlie Babbitt as he transforms over the course of his road trip with his autistic brother. It’s hard to muster any positive feelings for Charlie as we see him lie and weasel his way through his car business in the beginning and then yell and demean Raymond when they first meet each other. The audience immediately connects with Raymond and understands his handicap, but it takes Charlie much longer to bury his hatred for his father deep enough to see how great his brother really is. Most of the credit when it comes to acting goes to Hoffman, but Tom Cruise delivers a very underrated portrayal of Charlie. A lesser actor could have failed trying to balance the line between hateful and immature, but Cruise gives his character a youthful energy that allows the audience to pass his missteps off as immaturity instead of spiteful.
I’ve never been a huge fan of director Barry Levinson, but he does have two gems in his resume with this and THE NATURAL. His direction in RAIN MAN is very pedestrian, often times focusing on awkward close-ups of our stars or editing too quickly, especially when Raymond was throwing a tantrum. The flow of the film works very well when it comes to the progression of Charlie from an obnoxious jerk to a loving brother. The transition is smooth and nothing feels forced or overly sentimental, which is often the case with relationship dramas. On a production side, the highlight of the film is the score from composer Hans Zimmer, which managed to create a lighter mood and helped Levinson prevent the film from becoming too dark or serious.
When listing the Best Picture Oscar winners of all time, RAIN MAN has to be listed as one of the weakest. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, just that it tends to be slightly overrated when it comes to everything but the performance of its two lead actors. Although the role was custom made to give Hoffman an Oscar, it still takes talent to pull off an autistic character that’s consistent with his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. Hoffman and Cruise made a great team in RAIN MAN and gave performances that are still at the top of their impressive resumes.
Video (1080p, 1.85:1) : The transfer had some consistency issues, with black levels coming through better in certain scenes than others. It’s partly the age of the film, but we have seen 80’s movies look better than this.
Audio (DTS-HD 5.1): This is a dialogue heavy film, but it sounds crystal clear.
Audio Commentaries- This film actually has three commentaries, one from director Barry Levinson, one from writer Barry Morrow and one from writer Ronald Bass. If you are just going to watch one then go for the Levinson one as it is the most interesting and informational. The other two aren’t bad, but they mostly talk about script details and plot development, which isn’t surprising. It would have been nice if they could have gotten the writers to do one combined commentary to hear them discuss with each other, but I guess what we get is better than nothing.
The Journey of Rain Man (22:07)- This is the making of documentary and it is really interesting as we get some more input from Levinson and the writers.
Lifting the Fog: a Look at the Mysteries of Autism (20:13)- This is a little documentary that introduces us to some real life autistic men who inspired the Raymond Babbit character. This is definitely worth the watch.
Deleted Scenes (2:13)- Just one deleted scene, but that’s pretty good since this film was made back in the 80′s.