Rain Man (Special Edition) 
DVD Drama
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 03 February 2004

Rain Man

MGM Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
release year: 1988
film rating: Three Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

“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.”

Charlie learns patience and humanity in dealing with Raymond, which is handled in relatively low-key fashion. The film tries hard to avoid being overly sentimental and doesn’t try to suggest that Charlie can affect Raymond as profoundly as Raymond affects him – for instance, even after all their time together, when Charlie attempts to bestow a brotherly hug, Raymond freaks out (many autistic people cannot bear to be touched). Hoffman is very good at conveying Raymond’s state of being trapped in his own head, unable to process many things that are happening around him and taking refuge in repetition, while Cruise is very strong as a man who goes from hostile and petulant to genuinely caring. Valeria Golino is graceful and warm as Charlie’s good-hearted girlfriend.

All of this, however, doesn’t make up for the fact that the first half of the film is really slow going. Charlie has a consistent pathology to him, which makes him relatively credible and consistent, but this doesn’t translate to interesting. As for Raymond, while he elicits compassion, anyone who has a mentally impaired family member and/or has had real-life dealings with someone in Raymond’s muted state can attest to the fact that the experience can be many things, but “entertaining” is seldom one of them. On one of the audio commentary tracks, writer Ron Bass explicitly says that the creative thinking was that Hoffman is so endearing that the audience would be engrossed by him no matter what – this review is proof that this is not universally true. We want Charlie to stop agitating Raymond – after the first dozen times during which Charlie sees that any sort of change upsets Raymond greatly, we see that Charlie is annoyed by Raymond’s fits yet persists in provoking him, we start to wonder if perhaps Charlie is also impaired in some way – but this is not fascinating, merely discomfiting. When Charlie finally does start to wise up and act like an adult, we feel relief and eventually start to root for him a little, but he’s been such a jerk for so long that actual empathy never quite comes into play.

The print for the DVD version of “Rain Man” is not as clean as it could be – there are definite scratches and marks jumping around the frames in Chapter 1. It cleans up relatively well thereafter. The colors are pretty good, with some really lovely hues in a Chapter 14 sequence that takes us through the open road at late afternoon and twilight. Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-winning score is quite lovely, with drums and haunting, sparse piano themes. The sound in the film is designed to indicate spatial relationships – there are significant volume drops when a character who is speaking leaves the room, for instance – which is a bit awkward on a non-discrete mix for DVD. The technique is intentional and brings a sense of verisimilitude to the physical whereabouts of the characters in relation to one another, but it also requires the viewer to play volume jockey in order to catch all the dialogue. Chapter 12 has some appealing bluesy source music and in Chapter 13, there’s a good effect as Raymond’s scream of panic blends with the scraping of airport machinery.

Special features include a deleted scene at a drugstore, showing us how Raymond copes (or rather, does not cope) on his own. There are three audio commentary tracks: one with director Levinson, one with writer Bass and the third with other writer Barry Morrow, who crafted the original story. Morrow reminisces about the friend who inspired him to create the character of Raymond, Bass has good anecdotes about the creative process and Levinson has intriguing insights about the musical score. The soundtrack comes up full volume on the sometimes lengthy gaps between comments.

“Rain Man” is a much-honored and much-loved film. Many people have found it deeply moving, and you may feel the same way. Then again, you may feel as though you are spending a fair amount of time with two people whose company you don’t enjoy.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Surround; French Stereo Surround; Spanish Mono
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentary by Director Barry Levinson; Audio Commentary by Writer Ron Bass; Audio Commentary by Writer Barry Morrow; Original Featurette; Deleted Scene; Photo Gallery; Theatrical Trailer; English, French and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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