Saturday, December 19, 2015


(December 1988, U.S.)

(please read this post on Wednesday...definitely Wednesday!)

I've said this before...and it looks like I'll say it again, and that's that I have a real weakness for many of (but not all) Tom Cruise's films. Over the course of my writings, I've cited films like COCKTAIL (1988), DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) and FAR AND AWAY (1992) as some of his worst. Over the past few years, I've been able to add titles like OBLIVION (2013) and EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) to the list. Yet, whenever I have to contend with crap like that, I just reach back into my mind and memory and recall his truly outstanding dramatic performances in films like RAIN MAN, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989), A FEW GOOD MEN (1992) and JERRY MAGUIRE (1996). Yes, the man can act, but for some reason, seems hell bent on doing nothing but action thrillers while he's still moderately young enough to physically do them. Still, when I watch RAIN MAN, I can somehow easily forgive him for all the crap because his role as Charlie Babbitt is, by far, still the best performance of his long career!

From the moment we meet Charlie, we immediately get the sense that there's something corrupt about him. His profession as an importer of expensive, collectible automobiles is not necessarily illegal, but there's still a quality to his business attitude and personality that would put him right up there at the level of used car salesman and criminal attorney. He's a man of charm and even a level of suaveness, but he's also clearly a man with a large chip on his shoulder. As a businessman, anger and impatience are part of his sales persona. As a lover to Susanna (played by Valeria Golino), he's a man within his own shell, unable or unwilling to open up to her. When it's announced that Charlie's father has just died, it becomes immediately clear that his estranged relationship with his father very likely plays a large role in his cynicism toward the world. Cut out of his dad's will, Charlie inherits nothing but rose bushes and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible over which he and his father had previously fought over. The the bulk of his father's three million dollar estate is to go to an unnamed trustee at a mental institution in Cincinnati, Ohio, which he visits to get to the bottom of things. It's there that he learns that the trustee is his own older brother Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman), whose very existence he was previously unaware of and who also happens to be autistic. Unmoved and uncaring about it, Charlie's initial reaction is to somehow figure out a way to get half of the monetary inheritance, which he's feels he's entitled to by rights. While not exactly kidnapping Raymond, he takes him away from the institution without permission and plans to take him back to Los Angeles so he can defend his financial intentions in a court of law.

Now, while not really nothing anything about the facts of autism (not without looking it up, anyway), the range of this neuro-developmental disorder that we're shown through Raymond is a man, who while unable to express any emotional thoughts or feelings toward those around him is also a man with strict routine and outstanding recall to the extent that he may be considered a human calculator. As Charlie and Raymond travel together in the tradition of the classic screen road trip, Charlie's anger and impatience with Raymond's condition is almost equally matched by his impressed reactions to Raymond's exceptional abilities. As the relationship between two brothers grows, it's revealed that Raymond actually lived with the Babbitt family when Charlie was very young and he also realizes that the secret comforting figure from Charlie's childhood, whom he falsely remembered as an imaginary friend named "Rain Man", was actually Raymond, who was sent away because he'd accidentally burned Charlie with hot water as a little boy. And yet it's important to note that even as Charlie is learning to becoming more human toward his brother and the world in general, he's still not beyond selfishly using Raymond's skills to help him win money in Las Vegas; money he desperately needs in order to save his business from going under. The Las Vegas sequence is amusing and entertaining, not only because it's a pleasure to watch Charlie win his money back as Raymond counts cards, but to also watch Raymond experience some of the simple pleasures of life like dancing and kissing a girl (and hey, kissing Valeria Golino in 1988 could never have been a bad thing!). By the film's end, as cliché would have it, Charlie is no longer interested in the inheritance and now wants to have a relationship with his brother and take care of him. Realizing Charlie's own limitations and the need for Raymond to have professional care, such a notion will not happen, but our hero (if we wish to call him that) has learned the value of respect, patience and the love between brothers (movie characters being what they are, Charlie Babbitt may be a much better man than I am!).

RAIN MAN takes my cinematic memory back to a time when director Barry Levinson was practically an unstoppable force in dramatic content. This film was just one of many in a long string of hits that also included films like GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987), BUGSY (1991), DISCLOSURE (1994) and SLEEPERS (1996). I miss those days because even though Levinson hasn't exactly disappeared from cinema, his films of the 21st Century haven't exactly had the same juice they once had. One may consider this film a miracle to Dustin Hoffman's career because it would have been absolutely tragic if the nightmare that was known as ISHTAR (1987) had killed the poor man after winning the Oscar for best actor in TOOTSIE (1982). Again, while not knowing too much about the realities of autism, Dustin's performance brought the disorder to a new light for audiences who may have been previously unaware of it's effects and also its possibilities. Dustin also won his second Oscar for best actor for this film. Indeed, that's what I call redemption!

RAIN MAN won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1988, and rightfully so!

Favorite line or dialogue:

John Mooney: "Are you disappointed?"
Charlie Babbitt: "Disappointed? Why should I be disappointed? I got rose bushes didn't I? I got a used car, didn't I? This other guy, what'd you call him?"
John: "The beneficiary."
Charlie: "Yeah him, he got three million dollars but he didn't get the rose bushes! I got the rose bushes! I definitely got the rose bushes! Those are rose bushes!"
John: "Mr. Babbitt, there's no reason to..."
Charlie: "To what? To get upset? If there is a Hell, sir, my father is in it and he is looking up right now and he is laughing his ass off! Sanford Babbitt, you wanna be that guy's son for five minutes? I mean, did you hear that letter? Were you listening?"
John: "Yes I was. Were you?"
Charlie: "No, can you repeat it because I can't believe my fucking ears!"

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