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With: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, Jack Murdock, Michael D. Roberts, Ralph Seymour, Lucinda Jenney, Bonnie Hunt, Kim Robillard, Beth Grant
Written by: Barry Morrow, Ronald Bass
Directed by: Barry Levinson
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 133
Date: 12/12/1988

Rain Man (1988)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's something of a miracle that Rain Man works at all, but it's absolutely astonishing that it's an Oscar winner for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

Let's consider the actual masterpieces that came out that year: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Clint Eastwood's Bird, Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line, and Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, not to mention Die Hard. It was also a great year for comedies: Beetlejuice, Big, A Fish Called Wanda, Midnight Run, and The Naked Gun. And the year's imports included My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, High Hopes, and The Decalogue.

Not one of those movies was even nominated for Best Picture, though Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons was, and even that seems like a much better choice from today's standpoint.

Rain Man actually has the same story arc as the aforementioned Midnight Run, and any given dozen movies from the past few years as well: a selfish or uptight character finds him or herself saddled with a hard-to-handle misfit (sometimes on a road trip) and everyone learns to be a better person.

What no one ever talks about in regards to Rain Man is that it's really Charlie's story, and that Tom Cruise has a much harder job than Dustin Hoffman. Cruise was a year away from his first "serious" acting role, in Born on the Fourth of July, and no one considered him a real actor at the time. But he most certainly was. Cruise successfully shares the screen with Hoffman's showboating performance, reacts to every silly little line reading, and still manages to create a character arc. Raymond (Hoffman), on the other hand, has no character arc and learns nothing, other than the fact that he leaves his comfort zone (although he manages to create a new comfort zone).

And yet, of course, it's Hoffman that earned all the accolades. In addition to his Oscar, he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for a BAFTA. Cruise received one notice, from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, for Best Supporting Actor, tied with two other performers. According to all the hype, Hoffman did his usual Method acting thing and studied real autistic patients, and learned to copy their mannerisms and thought patterns. Then he simply uttered all the screenplay's cute catch phrases ("I'm an excellent driver," "fifteen minutes to Judge Wapner," "definitely..." etc.). Perhaps it was part of the 1980s that everyone was impressed by flash rather than substance.

However, if you can somehow ignore all this hype -- and it's hard, I know -- then Rain Man works as a kind of small comedy. The chemistry between the leads is good, and even though they don't seem in the least bit like brothers, they somehow manage to pull it off. It's too long, of course, and Valeria Golino has a thankless role as Charlie's girlfriend, but the movie has a lightness of touch, and a nice mixture of comedy and drama, not unlike director Barry Levinson's previous film Good Morning, Vietnam (1987).

I suppose it's too late to change the public opinion on this movie, and put it back into perspective, but now that MGM has released a new Blu-Ray perhaps a new generation will watch and wonder what the big deal was. And then maybe even later, more new viewers will watch and enjoy it for what it actually is.

The Blu-Ray comes with three commentary tracks, one by director Levinson, and one each from co-writers Ron Bass and Barry Morrow. There are a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a deleted scene, and a trailer.

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