I have been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. The next on my list was the 1988 winner, Rain Man, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman.
Rain Man is part family drama, part road movie. It follows a young entrepreneur (Cruise) who discovers he has an older, autistic brother. The story follows their journey both literal and figurative from strangers to forming brotherly bonds.
The other Best Picture nominees that year were The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning and Working Girl. In addition to Best Picture, Rain Man also won Best Actor in a Leading Role (Hoffman), Best Director, and Best Writing, Original Screenplay.
When we first meet the younger brother, Charlie (Cruise), he is an insufferably selfish egomaniac. Everything revolves around him and the privileges he believes he deserves. Then, he gets a call informing him that his father has died. Upon hearing the will, he realizes he has a brother named Raymond (Hoffman), who's been institutionalized for most of his life.
At first, Charlie only sees Raymond as a way to collect on the inheritance his estranged father had denied him. He kidnaps his brother and takes him on a cross-country road trip, at first to have leverage against the estate's lawyers and then, as he grows to know him, because he wants to help him experience life.
Much has been said about Hoffman's award-winning acting in this movie: the way he studied autistic people for a year and imitated their lack of affect and their mannerisms to an impressive degree. But Cruise's acting is also noteworthy. Until I saw this movie, about 20 years ago, I wondered about the appeal of Cruise, who seemed like just another pretty face. This movie converted me, because Charlie is the one who transforms the most in this film. He learns to let emotion into his life, to value family above money.
Like all road movies, there are shared adventures, colorful settings, and interesting characters encountered along the way. While Charlie changes the most, Raymond changes, as well. By the end of the film, he has learned to be more open to change and to new experiences, and to accept (in his limited way) the affection offered to him by his brother.
So many people have imitated Hoffman's character from Rain Man that it can be hard to divorce those imitations from the real thing. Even the term "Rain Man" has entered the popular lexicon as a term for anyone who is remarkably good with memorization and numbers. Yet, if you put those associations aside and view Hoffman's performance, and especially his interactions with Cruise, with fresh eyes, you'll witness the true power of this film. Their performances was enhanced with many rehearsals, even during filmiing. The two rehearsed while driving to the set and in their trailers, often switching roles.
All the scenery that flows by, the vintage cars, the nostalgic seconds, all of that is secondary to a story about connection and about family.
Rating: **** (4 out of 5 stars)
This film is definitely worth watching. Yes, definitely worth watching.