Two top stars at the top of their form illuminate Rain Man with dazzling tour de force performances.
Tom Cruise is Charlie Babbitt, a vain, scheming Hollywood hustler whose father dies and leaves $3 million to his autistic older brother Raymond – who he knew nothing about, and who happens to be an institutionalised idiot savant.
Outraged, Charlie kidnaps his brother for ransom and hits the road to LA, planning to fleece him out of his inheritance.
In one of 1989’s most awesome performances, Dustin Hoffman plays the childlike Raymond who will not wear underwear unless it comes from K Mart, and flies into a tantrum if he misses his daily TV instalments of Peoples Court.
Rigid and emotionally dead, Raymond does, however, have a genius for numbers. Drop a box of toothpicks on the floor and he can tell you the exact number with one glance.
With Raymond’s mathematical computer of a mind, Charlie drags him to Las Vegas in a scheme to cheat the Blackjack dealers, and in the process learns to love unselfishly the brother who can never love back.
By the time he racks up $85,000, Charlie has fallen for Raymond.
This is a tender, funny look at brotherly love. Despite its sweep at the 1989 Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay), it’s not a big movie, but Hoffman makes every complex facet of an autistic believable without ever exploiting Raymond’s mental disorder.
Cruise really grows up as an actor of substance playing a greedy, self-centred jerk who learns how to feel and share his life with a brother who may never be able to love him back in the same way.
Both actors give their finest performances, and director Barry Levinson finds the perfect balance between comedy and pathos.
Rain Man is not just another ‘Disease of the Month’ weepie, it’s a touching trip into the unexpected, without a single pothole along the way.
Disclaimer: Before you rush off to Vegas with your estranged autistic brother, you should know that card counting only improves your chances of winning a Blackjack hand by 1.5%.
That counting gives you any advantage at all is the only reason casinos came down so hard on the practice (although it isn’t actually illegal).
That it’s not a foolproof way of amassing a fortune is reason enough to leave your mentally-bewildered sibling in the maximum-security home you found him in!
Michael D Roberts