Best Picture Profile: Rain Man

Directed by: Barry Levinson

Company: United Artists

Runtime: 133 minutes

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Charlie Babbitt, an on-the-go car dealer, is living in the fast lane. However, his father suddenly dies, leaving him to act to get his share of the inheritance. He wants to have it all. But what was left for him? An old classy car and a flower bed. Where’s the rest? It’s to be given to his brother Ray, who happens to be an autistic savant.

This annoys the hell out of him, since he thinks that Ray wouldn’t do anything with the riches since he is autistic. In his desperation to get his fair share, he kidnaps him and brings them in a crazy road trip where Charlie loses his girlfriend over a fight over Ray, among others.

In this crazy trip, he slowly builds up a relationship with him that he did not expect. Charlie started to care for Ray. It even comes to a point where he becomes selfless and cares for both of their sake. He forgets that he is kidnapping Ray, and he also uses him to play card games in Las Vegas since he knows it.

Ray had his first kiss, and he had his first dance with his brother Charlie. Now, Charlie could already get his part of inheritance, as the lawyer said, but he doesn’t care for it anymore. Charlie only wants the custody of Ray, but he couldn’t decide whether he would go back to his house or stay with his brother Charlie. In the end, Ray goes back to his home, and Charlie promises  to visit him soon.

I never expected that I would really like this since I remember feeling cold after watching this for the first time.

It carries such emotional resonance to everyone and to me especially because it’s a very simple story and yet, the whole relationship between Charlie and Ray is so well built-up that, in the end, you forget that Charlie kidnapped Ray. I can connect personally to it, but the important thing is it speaks the universal language of unexpected love.

Director Barry Levinson does quite a good job holding this movie together. It’s really close to being a TV movie, but he makes very slick moves to create such compelling results,  making it cinematic. The moves at a very well-decided pace that we don’t get bored and at the same time, we have enough time to establish the connection between us and Charlie and Ray. I

t’s really very simple, especially in the direction. But Levinson makes it sure that don’t get dragged around either by the pace or the sentimentality the story carries. I’m not sure it it was really anything revolutionary, but the direction really fits the movie.

As for me, there are a lot of well-directed scenes, building up the tension, humor, and drama. But for me, it’s the simple scene of Charlie and Ray going to the psychiatrist. It’s a normal scene, no music, not much I guess, just talking. And when the doctor is observing Ray, we have this reaction shot at Charlie, zooming in at his face. You may consider it a very small and unimportant shot, but it gives us the feeling that Charlie observes Ray in a level that hadn’t done before. He is getting close to Ray. He starts to understand him. The emotional connection between the two starts to tighten as Charlie is already willing to relate with Ray.

The screenplay also serves the movie with the best it can. It’s a really challenging work, I guess since it should be something people can relate, people think that it’s something different even though the film is very recent, it should give us a emotional look at autism and its effect to relationships without being over-sentimental, and most importantly, it should capture the setting of a cinema movie and not TV movie.

The line between cinema movie and TV movie is very hard to define when we have this kind of stories. And in some points of the movie, it did tend to almost cross over to the line, but it eventually catches up and gives us  real cinema. Anyway, let’s clear things: what is wrong with a TV movie? There are some really excellent TV movies? Well, they lack the emotional punch of cinema, and the production tends to be rushed, mediocre, and, well, forgettable. What made Rain Man cinema is that it was relaxed, very good, and memorable.

The screenplay lives up to the challenge of the story that is really quite hard to make because of the big chances that it could go wrong since it’s a dangerous story to tell. To have an autistic character as a lead character means extra care from the screenplay, and it could just result into two things: schmaltzy or effective. It was really effective; I don’t get the hate for the movie because it’s really accomplished.

The cinematography is efficient, the editing flawless, the sound accomplished, the costumes wonderful. The music is really good, since it evokes the feeling of the turbulent relationship between the two. Even though these technical parts really feel dated, it helps us to have such personal atmosphere that could be built by these technical parts.

Dustin Hoffman is indeed brilliant as Ray Babbitt. His performance is a really a dangerous one since it has a lot of tics in it that it is already calculated but it should not feel that it’s all overdone.I know that it’s a love-or-hate performance, but even if I don’t think he was really the best that year, he still gave us one of the most accomplished performances that year. The way he moves, the way he walks, the way he speaks can only be done by someone who really knows he craft of acting realistically. And the movie really benefited from Hoffman’s surprisingly affecting performance.

The deft characterization he applies throughout the length of the movie is a thing to remember from the movie. From the first moment he arrives to the farewell scene with Cruise in the train station, it’s an all the way gripping performance by Hoffman. His experience really helped him in making the character seem so real but seem so different. It’s an intelligent performance by Hoffman, and it’s a true showcase of a real actor’s range.

So, when you remember Rain Man, the first thing that pops into your mind is Dustin Hoffman, who happens to be a sort of co-lead, though he is really suited for a lead. People tend to forget Tom Cruise who injects such sensitivity and, at the same time, toughness as the real lead of the film.

He is the start of the film, and he is the end of the film. He’s a no-nonsense, business-minded, mature 80’s yuppie here, and I know that. There’s no false impression that he makes in the film because he really has the biggest character arc in the film, and much important character arc than Hoffman’s. Hoffman could have a showier and much more noticeable character as he was unusual, but Cruise serves as the sturdy foundation of the film.

He doesn’t have any showy scenes, maybe except for some scenes where he is really agitated with Ray, having some yells, but it’s a really subtle turn from Cruise. He’s playing an appealing character, he’s cool, and he has an autistic brother. If you’ll look at that, it may look like that he doesn’t do much acting, and he’s always on the background since the spotlight’s on Hoffman, but Cruise holds his own in his scenes.

The thing about his character is that he manipulates the proceedings, but his brother gets the attention. The thing with Cruise’s performance is that he was able to do a very tricky thing with Charlie Babbitt – he doesn’t let himself be overshadowed by Hoffman nor he overshadow Hoffman. He creates a team with him, and he makes equal impact with Hoffman.

In this part, I could say that I favor Cruise’s performance over Hoffman’s because he was able to build the backbone of the film without letting himself be overpowered. This year could have been his year. Maybe the studio was ust afraid to face the truth that the two leads of the film are just two of the best actors of the year, so they didn’t even push Cruise for campaign.

Both Cruise and Hoffman make a wonderful acting duo that was able to reach the zenith of the film’s success, and that is because of the incomparable charisma and chemistry they bring on screen. Both give great performances, but they are also brothers in the film.  And I believe it because they were able to show dimensions of the story that no other actor can do. I mean, there are some better actors, Cruise is no Brando, but Cruise brought something special in this film that no other actor can, same with Hoffman.

And that leads us to the best scene of the film. It’s when Ray was in the kitchen. And did some wrong things, leading to the oven having a fire. He doesn’t know what to do. The fire alarm started ringing, Charlie came down running, protecting Ray. He tries to calm Ray down, but he is still in panic attack. And amidst all of that, there is this deafening silence, with a quiet musical score slowly building the tension of the scene.

It’s fantastic. It achieved an unspeakable level of control. I mean it holds your breath, it takes you to the place, it feel like you’re in Ray’s mind. You don’t know what’s going on Ray’s mind. He’s in panic, shouting, but he is enveloped with this silence, this feeling of being trapped. And Charlie came. He tries to help him to ease his anxiety, but he doesn’t easily use it. It’s going to be my favorite scene from this movie.

But let’s look at this point: why am I praising the film mostly with its performances? Because the drive of the film are the performances. We don’t know where to lead. It’s all unpredictable, but we are able to trust with the performances. So I don’t mind the flaws. And when you focus on the performances, you know you’re not watching TV, you are watching cinema.

What we have here is a simple and direct, maybe slightly dated, film but in the hands of two great actors, we are able to have this glimpse in autism. The production may not fully impress you, because this film is not for all.

But it’s a film of subtlety and heart without the oversentimentality.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?