#135 Rain Man
(1988, Barry Levinson)
“I like having you as my brother”
Mental illness is often something that’s widely misunderstood and often poorly represented in movies as a result. However, one movie that is widely praised for its effective depiction of mental illness is Rain Man. Not only that, but the movie is largely responsible for helping bring autism into the public consciousness.
Tom Cruise is Charles Babbett, a typical eighties yuppie businessman, all money, all talk, no heart. After hearing the death of his father, he becomes irritated to learn that the estate is being handed over to a local mental hospital instead of him, and heads down there to take back what he believes to be rightfully his. When he gets there, he discovers that he has a long-lost brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who is an autistic savant – completely incapable of proper social interaction, but with an impeccable memory and the maths skills of a computer (despite having no understanding of money). Determined to get his share of the inheritance back from a man who doesn’t understand the concept of money, he steals Raymond away from the institute and an odd couple road movie breaks out.
When the movie started, I was worried the film wouldn’t be all that good. It opened with a very cheesy licensed-song-led montage sequence that screamed “I was made in the eighties!” and then when Cruise’s character was introduced, I just wanted to punch him in the face, and not because it was Tom Cruise either. The character starts out as such an unlikeable creature of a man, completely remorseless and hugely selfish, that even Wall Street traders would probably watch the movie and say “hang on a minute, that’s a bit much”.
But this swiftly turns around. The rest of the cast are quick to point out how much of an arse Charles is at any given opportunity, and once Raymond is introduced, the movie takes on a new dimension. It’s at this point I realised how good Cruise and Hoffman worked together. The chemistry between the actors was phenomenal, even with Hoffman playing a socially inept autistic. The movie at this point becomes charming and funny. Yes, even Cruise’s character becomes likeable in Raymond’s presence.
Hoffman is the key to this movie’s success. He manages to take a character with no social skills at all and make him charming and loveable through the use of good comic timing and the absolute subtlest of emotional reactions where necessary. But he works so well with Cruise too, who manages to play Charles as ruthlessly pig-headed at the start of the movie and then switches gears completely towards the end without making it seem like a different person.
However, great performances do little to hide the movie’s numerous flaws. The plot is a little erratic, with the card-counting subplot being introduced a little too late into the proceedings as a major example of this. The movie also feels dated, often employing the same tired montages as many other eighties movies, usually when it feels completely inappropriate. A montage of Las Vegas crops up out of nowhere and then ends, and it’s not until a scene later that we realise the relevance of pointing out the characters had reached Vegas.
It’s an eighties feel good movie at its heart, and this does threaten to drag the film down at times, but somehow it manages to come out unscathed on the other end. Essentially, the movie works because of its lead actors, even if some other elements don’t quite gel as well as they should.
Overall, it is very watchable. Not perfect and suffering a bad case of eighties feel-good disease, but I enjoyed it.
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise & Valeria Golino
Written by Barry Morrow & Ronald Bass
Produced by Mark Johnson
Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by John Seale
Edited by Stu Linder
Favourite Scene: Charles takes Raymond to a psychiatrist who marvels at his number abilities, only for Ray to reveal that he thinks a chocolate bar is “about 100 dollars”
Scene That Bugged Me: Felt a little anti-climactic that Charles never gets in any real trouble in Vegas. The higher-ups in the casino wag a finger at him and tell him to leave but that’s about it.
Watch it if: You want a charming portrayal of autism
Avoid it if: Tom Cruise’ love of scientology has caused you to boycott him