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Thursday, 19 January 2017

Retro Review: Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Valeria Golino, Bonnie Hunt
Genre: Road Comedy-Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: $354 million

Plot: When car dealer Charlie Babbitt learns that his estranged father has died, he returns home to Cincinnati when he discovers he has an autistic older brother named Raymond and that his father's $3 million fortune is being left to the mental institution in which Raymond lives. Motivated by his father's money, Charlie checks Raymond out of the facility in order to return with him to Los Angeles. The brothers cross-country trip ends up changing both their lives 

'Sterling Brotherly Love Drama In The Context Of Autism'

Rain Man is a drama that will make you feel a range of emotions: happiness, sadness, irritation and anger. Charlie Babbit is an arrogant, self-made car wheeler-dealer - think automobile's version of Gordon Gekko of Wall Street-, who thinks of nothing and nobody but himself and being rich. That all changes when he finds out his late father, Sanford Babbit's estate has gone into caring for his autistic older brother, Raymond. Along with his girlfriend, Charlie goes out of his way to having Raymond released from care so that he can get his hands on the money. 

But as he does so, his brash, self-centred attitude comes into question as he comes to terms with his relationship with his sibling and that Charlie has to change for the better, not just for the sake of his brother, but for himself as well. 

Rain Man shows the reality of Autism and reopens discussions on how this disease can impact on family, as well as the frustration in how to deal with an autistic person. Though Hollywood rarely addresses mental disability with the emotional nuance it deserves in its mainstream movies, Rain Man goes about it with a tenderness and compassion and was arguably the first real commercial film to tackle and highlight autism. Something of which was never really delved into by directors and writers. Though he cannot socially function properly, Raymond makes up for this by being good at math(s) and possessing good memory and observational skills. He has a child-like persona and is virtually dependent on living his routine. But as well as this, the film does attempt to show that despite their differences, the two brothers actually have a lot in common than they actually thought, particularly for Charlie. 

The scene with Raymond taking a peek at his brother and his girlfriend having sex and afterwards, he sits on the bed eating and watching TV, was slightly amusing. As is when Charlie asks Raymond ''am I using you?'' and Raymond replies with ''Yeah'' and Charlie tells him to shut up was another highlight. Dustin Hoffman was rightly awarded Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards and without him, nobody else could've played Raymond as well as Dustin. He was fantastic throughout and it also shows his range in playing characters with vulnerable tendencies and ones that are quirky, but not over-the-top. As Raymond, he evoked a poignancy and sensitivity that is more empathetic, without degenerating into sappy schmaltz or making that character look foolish and embarrassing. He embodies the character's mannerisms and of an actual autistic person with incredible, yet deft realism. 

Tom Cruise's character, Charlie and his changes are more gradual, and step by step, instead of being a major overhaul. By the end of the film, though he is still a yuppie, one does sense that perhaps he might or will treat people with respect, and be more compassionate in the future. Up until his turn in Jerry Maguire, Cruise has never been better as the frustrated and ill-tempered younger brother, who is coming to terms with his brother's autism and he definitely shows that range that he has as a dramatic actor, which unfortunately over the years has been marred by his off/on-camera attitude - which has put a lot of people off him. & though they may tire of him over-acting here, Cruise played the part extremely well.  

Potentially, Rain Man's premise could've and might have been a total disaster - had it not been approached and handled with care, precision and sensibility. Instead, it is mildly amusing, not too overly serious as I'd thought it would be and the performances put paid to the quality writing. Much to the credit of Barry Levinson's masterful direction; after Good Morning, Vietnam the year before, again he worked his cinematic wonders with Rain Man, and with lead stars in Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, who both succeed in their roles. Valeria Golino as Charlie's on/off girlfriend is excellent too. 

Final Verdict:

Rain Man is an exceedingly great drama that has maintained its quality over the past 4 decades. It's a poignant, touching, at times amusing look at the effects of someone who has autism and the relationships between the brothers that develops and strengthens, as the film progresses very much later on. 

With terrific performances by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, its subject matter and handling of it was a rare thing back in the late 1980s and though there have been similar offerings in I Am Sam and Radio released since then, Rain Man still reigns top as the best film about not just living with autism, but how it can not and must not get in the way of two siblings, with Charlie developing a clear brotherly love towards Raymond. 

Almost 30 years on, that message has never become stale; it still resonates today -, & that message is it's never too late to connect with your family. 


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