Friday, 7 December 2012

Rain Man (1988)

To kick this off, I'm going to talk about the film during which I decided to write this blog, Barry Levinson's Rain Man.

As per usual, I recorded this film after seeing it in the Sunday Post's short guide to the films that are appearing somewhere on TV over the week. It's not a particularly fantastic or definitive list, but it occassionally mentions films that I've been meaning to watch for a while, and I go straight through to the TV to record them. This particular issue of the Post was published quite a number of weeks ago, and Rain Man has been saved on my Sky+ box for some time, but I've never found time to watch it until today. I love these days, when you realise there's enough time over the weekend to push back all the homework for the following week and watch a film. Although I had been meaning to watch The Untouchables (which I recorded only yesterday on Film4), it turns out that you need to enter a PIN to view films with a number as a certificate, and this PIN was undisclosed to me and all of my family. Not terribly helpful. Thankfully, Sky doesn't realise that Rain Man was a film and thus didn't lock it away, and so I got to watch it.

I've heard much praise being dished out to this movie, and its generous helping of awards (four Academy Awards, including Best Picture) only added to my stellar preconceptions of Rain Man before I saw it. My knowledge of the actual plot, however, was less than impressive. All I could have told you was that Dustin Hoffman plays the autistic older brother of Tom Cruise... and nothing more. I admit that I was unsure of how this fact would translate into an interesting plot line, whether they fall for each other's wives, accidentally discover time travel together or embark on a catastrophe-strewn road trip around Europe.

It turns out the plot is a lot more simple and interesting. Cruise begins the film as a slightly repulsive LA car dealer named Charlie Babbitt, who is irritated by the mere thought of someone deciding not to buy one of his products and reacts passively when he receives news of his father's death. It turns out that Charlie and his dad didn't have the most idyllic of relationships (a fact that isn't too hard to believe) and haven't spoken to each other for a number of years. Bibbit's coldness towards his father is thrown back in his face when he discovers that he has been bequeathed next to nothing in the old man's will, with the entire $3.5 million fortune left to his brother. This is a problem, as Charlie always believed that he was an only child. He goes on the hunt for the elusive sibling, finding him as a resident in the Walbrook Mental Institution.

Hoffman is quite extraordinary as Charlie's autistic brother Raymond. To some, his performance may seem over-the-top and robotic, but it is quite clear that he did his research on the condition. His character is based on the real life case of the incredible Kim Peek, a man certainly worth Googling if you've never heard of him. Although unable to converse normally with other people, Peek had a variety of amazing abilities, such as his well-known trick of being able to tell what day of the week a person was born on incredibly quickly from their date of birth. Raymond exhibits similar talents. In one scene taking place in a restaurant, he recalls a waitress' phone number after remembering her name in the directory he had been given to read the previous night, and correctly counts the number of toothpicks she drops on the floor (246) within seconds. I know a couple of autistic people personally, and Hoffman does a very accurate job of acting the condition throughout the film. He rightly won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his work.

Tom Cruise, however, is less enthralling in his role as Charlie Babbitt. He is suitably nasty at the beginning, quite happily irritating Raymond as he mocks his obsessive routines and mannerisms. He quickly grows irritable when Raymond's idiosyncratic behaviour gets in the way of his ambitions. The thing is, Cruise never quite gets out of this character of a snarky, ignorant sod as the film carries on. Towards the end, exchanges from Charlie to Raymond that should sound loving and brotherly just sound sarcastic and patronising, as they would at the start. I never found myself truly liking Charlie as I perhaps should have.

This hardly even tarnishes the film, though, and a story that could have quite easily become unbearably corny is, in fact, thought-provoking and thoroughly pleasant. The character of Raymond Babbitt is fascinating, and he is played with understanding and sympathy. Certainly one to watch again.

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