Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #387: Rain Man

For better or for worse, “Rain Man” is the film that introduced autism to pop culture. Dustin Hoffman’s dedicated performance as Raymond Babbitt, an idiot savant, has been referenced in television shows, movies, and even a Ricky Gervais monologue. The performance earned him an Academy Award, but special mention should also go to Tom Cruise for playing a character that begins as a greedy opportunist and evolves into a caring individual. It seems unlikely Hoffman and Cruise could play brothers, but the scene in Las Vegas when they dance together greatly helps to suspend your disbelief.

This movie was a rental from about seven years ago at my mom’s suggestion. She had seen it; I am guessing back when it first came out in 1988, and fondly described the story and Hoffman’s performance.  I guess anybody who was alive in the 80s saw that performance as part of that era’s pop culture. Since I was born in the 80s and didn’t exactly feel like watching that movie when I was two years old, renting it was a good opportunity to watch a movie both mom and I can appreciate. Good thing, because the older I get, the less movies we watch together. She and I aren’t going to sit down any day soon to watch John Woo’s “The Killer.”

“Rain Man,” directed by Barry Levinson, tells a much more family-friendly comedy/drama that can be enjoyed by everyone. Charlie Babbitt (Cruise), a car dealer from Los Angeles is in danger of losing a good chunk of cash if he cannot find a way to import four Lamborghinis for his business. He believes his troubles are over when he learns of his estranged father’s death and travels to Cincinnati for the reading of the will. Unfortunately, all Babbitt senior left him is a classic Buick Roadmaster and several prize rose bushes. However, three million dollars are donated to a mental institution that is the home of Raymond (Hoffman) the brother he never knew he had.

Raymond is autistic, and with Hoffman’s performance it means he shows very little human expressions, adheres to strict routines, and has superb counting skills. This is of little interest to Charlie, who only wants a way to obtain those three millions. Charlie essentially kidnaps Raymond and takes him on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles where his attorneys will begin a custody battle over the money. He will use Raymond as a bargaining chip with the hospital so they can maintain custody of Raymond in exchange for the money. That move is so repulsive Charlie’s girlfriend (Valeria Golino) leaves him right then and there.

The story then switches into a road movie, hence the inheritance of a convertible, as Charlie and Raymond drive to Los Angeles. Along the way Charlie will learn it is not easy to take care of a mentally disabled man by himself. When Raymond misses a part of his routine, such as watching a TV show at a specific time, he throws a fit, forcing Charlie to find a television set as quickly as possible. He also learns that Raymond is actually Rain Man, a protective figure from his childhood he always thought was a figment of his imagination, and that there is a reason his brother’s existence was kept from him.

That Charlie and Raymond will bond by the time they arrive in Los Angeles is both inevitable and predictable. Regardless, the movie succeeds in charming you thanks to the work of its two leads. Hoffman is in character for the whole film, playing a man who isn’t completely there, but still manages to develop affection towards a man who initially wants to exploit him. Tom Cruise has a role just as challenging by playing a man, who is greedy enough to use Raymond’s counting skills at a Las Vegas casino, but also human enough to realize he loves his brother.

I am no doctor, I don’t know if this is an accurate portrayal of a person with autism. However, it can’t be denied it is an endearing performance; worthy of all the awards Hoffman won for it. Although, having now seen “Tropic Thunder” it makes one wonder if Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t right when he said Hoffman won because he didn’t go “full retard” (his words) by having Raymond by a counting whiz. I just hope casinos don’t ban autistic people out of fear they could count the cards.

Oh, and, good one Mr. Gervais.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…