|Rain Man (Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 03 February 2004|
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“Rain Man” comes with an impeccable pedigree. The 1988 drama, about a self-centered wheeler-dealer discovering his own humanity while bonding with his autistic brother, won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and (of particular interest to AudioRevolution.com readers) Best Original Score. In other words, a lot of people thought at the time of its release, and very likely still think, this is a great movie.
Having seen “Rain Man” once during its original theatrical run and having just rewatched it on the new DVD release from MGM Home Entertainment, I must respectfully disagree. This is not to say that “Rain Man” is a bad movie – it is cohesive, very well-made and director Barry Levinson does get excellent performances from his very talented cast. However, there is a weirdly dated, artificial quality to the film, which tries to be naturalistic at the same time it sets up some extremely convoluted circumstances to justify why Tom Cruise’s Charlie Babbitt, who has no experience (or patience) with dealing with the mentally handicapped, winds up spending a week in the company of his brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman, who won an Oscar for his performance here). The contrivances would be easy to shrug off in a comedy, but they ring false in a framework that is trying to promote life lessons. Even this could work, but for the fact that Charlie is a rather dense hothead, Raymond is by the nature of his ailment somewhat walled-off and difficult and neither of them is enjoyable to spend time with for about the first half of the film. Even this wouldn’t matter so much, except that they’re not very interesting company, either.
We meet Charlie in Los Angeles as he is wheeling and dealing his way through what looks like a possibly shady set-up involving some very pricy cars he’s trying to sell. He’s in debt and about to lose his shirt. Then Charlie gets a phone call telling him that his father, who he’s been estranged from for years, has died. Charlie discovers that his father left his entire estate, worth about $3 million, to Raymond, the older brother Charlie never knew he had. Raymond is a “high-functioning autistic savant” who has spent nearly all of Charlie’s lifetime in an institution in Ohio. Charlie gets the bright idea of removing Raymond from the institution, a benign setting where Raymond is comfortable, and driving him to Los Angeles until their late father’s attorney agrees to give Charlie half the estate. It’s not an easy road trip. Raymond’s autism causes him to be extremely single-minded, fixated, unable to engage in normal conversation and subject to panic attacks, while Charlie, who has no experience in dealing with the mentally ill, persists in demanding that Raymond behave “normally.”