MGM // 1988 // 134 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 31st, 2004
"What you have to understand is, four days ago he was only my brother in name. And this morning we had pancakes."
There can be only one Best Picture (and Highlander, but that's another story.), and in 1988 it was the Barry Levinson drama/comedy Rain Man. Not only did the film snag the Best Picture award of the year, Levinson also picked up an award for directing, Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor, and the film won Best Original Screenplay, as well as being nominated in four other categories. Originally released on DVD in the early years of the format, Rain Man is back in a brand new "special edition" care of MGM Home Entertainment.
Tom Cruise is Charlie Babbitt, a self centered salesman (of exotic imported cars, it would seem) who suddenly finds himself in a relationship with a family member of extraordinary talent. When Charlie gets the call that his estranged father -- whom Charlie hasn't talked to in years -- has passed away, Charlie attends the reading of his father's will to find out what he's inherited. To Charlie's bitter dismay he finds himself in possession of his father's cherished '49 Buick while the rest of his $3 million fortune is turned over to a trust fund. Who owns the trust fund?
After a little snooping around, Charlie discovers that it is his brother -- a middle-aged autistic brother he never knew existed named Raymond -- who has been given the monetary inheritance. Angry and thinking he's been swindled out of what is rightfully his, Charlie takes Raymond from the hospital in hopes that it will force the local doctor to turn over the trust to Charlie. Thus begins a long journey for both men across the dessert in Charlie's Buick (because Raymond will not fly) that will test the limits of Charlie's patience and teach him to think outside his box of pessimistic narcissism.
As someone who has worked with the mentally handicapped, I could completely relate to Charlie Babbitt's frustration with his brother, Raymond. Autism is a very strange and frustrating condition, especially for someone who doesn't know much about it. When I was teaching severely handicapped children in California, I dealt with many children who were at the lowest functioning level of autism -- one boy in particular hated to be hugged, while another would beat me on the back with a bowl when it was time for his lunch. In other words, it was a bit of déjà vu to watch Barry Levinson's award winning Rain Man.
Rain Man was the Best Picture of 1988 and certainly deserved its accolades. There is something very special at work in this film. Tom Cruise, an actor I'm not particularly fond of, gives a heart tugging performance as Charlie, a character who genuinely makes a 180 degree turn during the film's two-hour run time (no small feat considering how rare that is in most movies). His change from bitter son to loving brother is one of the best things about Rain Man.
And then there is Dustin Hoffman's performance as Raymond. Hoffman does a fine representation of what autistic people can act like. Though his performance now seems slightly silly due to the familiarity and parodying over the years (it's hard not to hear Hoffman babble "Gotta watch Wapner" or "I'm a very good driver" without a little giggling), Hoffman proves that he is one of his generations best actors and was deserving of the Best Actor Oscar her garnered for this role. (* spoiler ahead *) Wisely, the filmmakers don't attempt to change Raymond by the end of the film -- it would have been a cheap cop-out had they made Raymond aware of Charlie's love for him by the last reel.
The screenplay by Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow taps into the feelings associated with being separated by family and discovering that there is something bigger in life than our petty desires. Levinson's direction is taut and well handled -- he give Cruise and Hoffman enough room to do their stuff without heavy editing. The pace of the film is sometimes a tad slow, but maybe that's the point -- in a way you begin to feel what it's like to be in Charlie's shoes dealing with Raymond. A supporting performance by Valeria Golino (Hot Shots!) as Charlie's well meaning girlfriend and Jerry Molen (The Other Side of Heaven) as the doctor who has Raymond's best interests at heart also elevate the film's emotional impact.
Rain Man isn't the perfect example of a Best Picture, but it is a very good film with all around excellent performances. Hoffman, Cruise, and Levinson have made an emotionally packed movie. Recommended.
Rain Man is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. MGM has smartly dropped the full frame version from the previous DVD for a far-better quality anamorphic print. This very attractive transfer sports bright, bold colors (just look at that Las Vegas skyline!) and dark black levels. There is a small amount of grain and dirt in the film, though it's kept at a minimum. I didn't spot any edge enhancement or artifacting that might otherwise mar the image. Overall this is a very nice picture that should please fans.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. There are a few moments when the 5.1 feature kicks in (especially with Hans Zimmer's eclectic music score), though mostly this is a front heavy track. That being said, I still am pleased with how this sound transfer turned out -- the dialogue, effects, and music are all well heard without any distortion in the mix. Also included on this disc is a Dolby 1.0 Mono track in Spanish, a Dolby Stereo track in French, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
This new "special edition" of Rain Man certainly is a step up from the previous DVD version (though to be honest, it's not as jam packed as most discs that bear the title "special edition"). Starting off the disc are not one, not two, but three different commentary tracks. The first is by director Barry Levinson, the second with screenwriter Ronald Bass, and the third by screenwriter Barry Morrow. After listening to a bit of each of these tracks, I can safely say that they all feature a startling amount of information on the making of the film. Some great tidbits about the conception of the film are shared (at one point, Steven Spielberg and Sydney Pollack were on board to direct) and while there are a few gaps of silence in each track, generally speaking this is a good place to go for information about all things Rain Man.
Next up is an original featurette from 1988 about the making of the film. Mostly it's just superficial interviews with Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Barry Levinson, and producers Mark Johnson, Peter Guber, and Jon Peters. Ho-hum. A deleted scene is more interesting, featuring Raymond eating food from a convenience store he didn't pay for. The print is in only so-so shape, but it's a fascinating look at what was cut from the film.
Finally there is a photo gallery that has been broken up into five sections ("The Filmmakers," "Tom and Dustin," "Tom Cruise," "Dustin Hoffman," and "Valeria Golino"), and a theatrical trailer presented in 1.33:1 full frame.
I can easily recommend Rain Man. This is good storytelling, great acting and a lot of humanity thrown in for good measure. If you've already got the original DVD release of Rain Man, you may want to consider upgrading to this newer, better "special edition" version of the film.
Yeah, I liked Rain Man. I liked it. Now I gotta go to K-Mart and buy my underwear. Yeah, buy my underwear. I buy my underwear at K-Mart. Yeah.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 134 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Three Commentary Tracks
* Original 1988 Featurette
* Deleted Scene
* Theatrical Trailer
* Photo Gallery
* Autism-PDD Resources Network