MGM // 1988 // 134 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // March 16th, 2011
Some Oscar winning films from past decades end up losing their luster over the years. Sometimes what made them special or unique is now cliche. Other times they ended up riding a wave of popularity that fades after the win. Does Rain Man have what it takes to retain it's 1988 best picture glory?
Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise, Risky Business) is notified that his father is dead. Charlie and his father haven't spoken in years, and yet he drops everything and heads off from LA to Cincinnati with his girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) in tow. You see, Charlie's business is in major financial trouble, and his father's estate is worth millions. Charlie has his hopes set on seeing some money from the will.
Turns out that the money has been put in a trust fund controlled by Dr. Bruner (Gerald Molen), and Bruner has custody of Charlie's brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate). Raymond is autistic and has been living in an institution since Charlie was so little that he doesn't even remember having an older brother. In a desperate gamble Charlie grabs Raymond and attempts to take him back to L.A. to use him as a bargaining chip to get some money for his failing business.
The uptight and selfish Charlie knows nothing about autism. He quickly discovers that this road trip is going to be a lot tougher than he ever imagined. As the miles pass, Charlie has to come to grips with his anger, and deal with his brother. By the time they get to LA he's going to have to make some tough decisions.
Nearly everyone who's seen Rain Man agrees that Dustin Hoffman is the main attraction. Raymond feels completely real, because Hoffman completely commits to the character. Everything from his speech patterns to his physical movements feels authentic. Sure a lot of the phrases that Raymond repeats became humorous catchphrases. But this is because they are so distinctive and performed with such realism that they remain in the memory. As good as Hoffman is, his scenes work so dynamically because Cruise is able to hold his own and work with him.
In 1988 the shadow of Top Gun was looming large over Tom Cruise's career. He was trying his best to show that he was a real actor, and not just a handsome face. Making Cocktail didn't help his cause, but Rain Man certainly did. This is probably one of the most natural and effective performances I've seen out of Cruise. Charlie's anger is always simmering near the surface, ready to boiling over when things go wrong on this road trip.
Barry Levinson has a great eye for visuals and scene composition. Rain Man is one of his best efforts. Whenever he puts the camera into Raymond's point of view it pulls us into his world. This is important because we are usually grounded with Charlie, and the contrast allows us to understand how the relationship between the brothers is evolving. Hans Zimmer gives these scenes a hand with his unique but effective score. The movie does run a little long, but it fits the feel of a long road trip with an annoying relative.
Unfortunately MGM has just ported over the film from there original DVD master. The image looks pretty good, but some of the blacks seemed a bit washed out, and there are a few soft looking scenes. The mixing on the soundtrack is also a bit odd. Some dialogue scenes are very quiet, but the musical score is thunderous. So keep your hands on those volume controls.
Extras are plentiful, but are ported over from the 2004 special edition DVD. These include three commentary tracks: one with Levinson, one with writer Barry Morrow, and one with writer Ronald Bass. You get a deleted scene and a making of featurette that runs 22 minutes. The only new featurette is called "Lifting the Fog: A Look at the mysteries of Autism" that runs about 20 minutes.
Rain Man is still as engaging and entertaining as it was back in the '80s. The acting is top notch and the story is involving. It's a simple story about two brothers, but the performances are what drive this to be a winner. Blu-ray is the way to add this to your collection, but if you already have the special edition DVD release, I don't see much of a reason to upgrade.
Not Guilty. Uh oh, fifteen minutes to Judge Wapner.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 134 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scene