Saturday, February 14, 2009

Film Review: 'Rain Man' – 8.0/10

Film Review: Drama (1988)
'Rain Man'
Written by Joé McKen on Saturday, February 14, 2009

Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman) really, really doesn’t like flying in United Artists’ 1988 achievement Rain Man.

Charlie Babbit never knew he had a brother. That’s probably a result of his long-since estrangement with his father, Sanford Babbit (though I wouldn’t blame him if my own father left me to rot in a jail for two days just for taking the car out for a spin; I digress). Another result of it, which is far more grievous to him, is his father giving the sum of his 3-million-dollar estate to Raymond, while Charlie gets a classic convertible … and some prize-winning rosebushes. Gee, flowers? Thanks Dad!

Charlie’s plan to remedy this? He plans to ‘kidnap’ his brother from the mental institution where he resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, and bring him back with him to Los Angeles where he’ll spark a custody battle to try and, somehow, get half of the 3 million dollars, which he feels (and rightfully so, might I add) is his rightful share. (Two sons, half and half, no?)

Oh – but why is Raymond in a mental institution? Turns out he’s an Autistic Savant (previously referred to as an ‘Idiot Savant’): he’s got severe social and emotional handicaps, effectively trapping him in his own world and making any normal relation with the outside world simply impossible, but he’s got mental acuities and abilities that seem to more than make up for it. He’s blessed with ‘total recall’ – basically, his memory is simply perfect. Any detail he’s ever read, watched or heard, he can recall in less than a second, from counting hundreds of fallen toothpicks in seconds to reciting every airline disaster from memory in eerie detail. (Understandably, he hates flying.) He also has abnormally high mathematical abilities, where you ask him any number with any equation applied to it and he gives you the exact answer instantly. (According to him, he just ‘sees’ the answer.)

But enough about Raymond already. It’s like San in Princess Mononoke (1997) – he’s the title character, but not actually the protagonist. The one we follow in this story is Charlie, his younger brother (you know, the one who doesn’t have Autism). His business is sinking fast and he desperately needs the money (half his father’s estate), and so when Raymond refuses to board a plane to L.A., Charlie’s forced to drive the long road back to L.A. with Raymond, obligated to follow Raymond’s extremely strict routine (lights out at 11, watching specific shows at their airtimes, arranging furniture as he’s used to them, etc.) and try not to lose his temper with his brother’s seemingly unbearable behavior and mannerisms.

The point of the story is witnessing the transformation in Charlie from stressed and selfish ‘yuppie’ to a much calmer and more understanding and compassionate brother for Raymond, who really does want to be understood even though he’s incapable of showing it in ‘traditional’ ways. Other than being a story about fictional characters on a cross-country drive that brings them closer together, one could easily glean a message from this film about tolerance, respect and understanding.

You can't help but eventually find yourself liking Raymond as Charlie does when he realizes he can't change Raymond, and that Raymond isn't intentionally trying to upset or frustrate him. He's simply unable to change – but you get to ignore that. Or rather, you don't ignore it, but you go along with it, accept it for what it is, and in that process, you even begin to love Raymond as a friend or a brother would. This can only be due to Hoffman's exceptional performance as the Autistic man, same as Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump or Sean Penn as Sam, and etc. Good acting is the central pillar on which anything that can be called a 'movie' relies; without it, there's nothing to hold the building up and it ends up a discredited mess. Rain Man knows this, and so do the actors. Hoffman is fantastic and believable, and Tom Cruise, as the transformed brother Charlie Babbit, is also fairly decent.

I’m usually not too keen on older movies, preferring modern visual clarity and believable special effects (among other things), but this movie was a good sacrifice to that rule of thumb of mine. One small gripe I may have though, is how Raymond’s Autism is portrayed: far too stereotypical for my taste. You could genetically build someone with specifically Autism in mind and not have all the specific symptoms Raymond shows (such as him instantly and unthinkingly following ‘Don’t Walk’ signs while in the middle of a street crossing, or screaming and banging his head when under pressure or frightened, or etc). He almost comes across as a cartoon at times, but this far from ruins the movie – if anything, it may even help commoners gain a slightly better understanding of Autism, and its victims.

I don’t have very much to say about Rain Man, considering I watched it last night (writing this at 5 PM), as one can tell from most of my review being a description of the plot, but that’s not to be taken as a bad sign; it just didn’t raise any real questions or sentiments in me. But I am certain many more will fall in love with it; it’s that kind of movie that touches people’s hearts. I suppose I’m just too analytical about it. Crud.

For giving us an image into what it’s like to be handicapped yet still sweet and likeable, and what it’s like to deal with such people and accept them, I give Rain Man 8.0 fallen toothpicks out of 10.

Charlie Babbit: Tom Cruise • Raymond Babbit: Dustin Hoffman • Susanna: Valeria Golino • Dr. Bruner: Gerald R. Molen
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Barry Levinson • Writer(s): Barry Morrow, Ronald Bass. Story by Barry Morrow. • Original Score: Hans Zimmer
General Information
Distributed by: United Artists • Released: December 16, 1988 (US) • Running Time: 133 mins • Budget: US$25 million • Rated: R


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