I’ll never know what happened to Tom Cruise. These days, I can’t stand the guy. But in movies like Rain Man, he’s at the top of his game. How Charlie Babbitt ended up jumping all over Oprah’s couch and suing everyone to ensure the world knows he’s straight, I’ll never know. Rain Man is Cruise in his prime, the Tom Cruise we all should remember. While it certainly has its flaws, the performances by Cruise and Dustin Hoffman carry this film to be a heartwarming and enjoyable ride.
In Rain Man, the pre-crazy Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, a self-centred car salesman who has run into some financial trouble. Upon hearing of his rich father’s death, he hopes to get some of that sweet, sweet inheritance. Instead, he gets stiffed by his father, and finds out $3 million has been left to someone else. That person is Raymond, played by Hoffman, the autistic brother Charlie never knew he had. Raymond has no concept of money, so Charlie tries to gain custody of Ray, and in the process become $3 million richer. Charlie and Ray then head out on a cross-country road trip to make it to the custody hearing in Los Angeles.
The road trip make-up of the plot really creates a good outlet to watch these two characters interact. Which, for the first two thirds of the film, is just Tom Cruise getting mad and yelling a lot. It takes far too long for Charlie figure out how to handle a mentally handicapped person. Tom Cruise pulls off this asshole character very well, but it really seemed as if this was the first time Charlie had ever even realized there were mentally handicapped people on earth. However, once Charlie and Ray start to connect, the movie is at its most enjoyable moments. The last few scenes of Rain Man are so touching, even the most stone-faced cynics will crack a satisfied grin.
Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Ray is so good I must now devote an entire paragraph to it. It’s such a difficult thing to walk the line of displaying a mental disability without offending the audience or alienating them. Hoffman is able to walk this line with an incredible finesse and delicacy. Ray is quite obviously different, but Hoffman injects him with humanity and life so that you don’t pity him, you relate to him as much as any other character. Plus, he’s just downright adorable.
As I’ve said, Cruise is also amazing. For me, he’s the kind of actor I can’t think of as a character; he’s just Tom Cruise whenever I watch him. Maybe it’s because this movie was made before he went nuts, but I was able to forget who he was outside the film, he was just Charlie Babbitt.
These two stars are what really hold Rain Man together, if it weren’t for them, it would likely fall apart from some the story’s weaker moments. A few strands of the story aren’t as flushed out as they should be. Charlie’s girlfriend, who is played admirably by Valeria Golino, is a strong part of the story for the first 30 minutes, then just disappears until the end. This romantic subplot could have been done much more effectively, instead it just ends up falling flat. Charlie’s money woes are also never clearly rectified by the end of the film. I understand that the point is that money is no longer important to Charlie, but it still seemed like a loose end left hanging (unless the money from gambling was enough to cover his debts? Either way, it wasn’t really clear to me. Let me know if I just missed something).
But one final thing I loved about Rain Man was the music. This was Hans Zimmer’s very first Hollywood score, and it works so well. Director Barry Livinson had told him to not use strings in the score to keep the movie from becoming too sentimental, and works beautifully. Zimmer’s score creates a more perky 80s’ atmosphere that prevents the movie from being overly schmaltzy. Instead, the keys and drums keep the pace up during the movies more light-hearted moments, and generally leave the heavier moments to their own devices.
Rain Man is a classic feel-good movie. It’s so tender and heartwarming without becoming too heavy-handed or cheesy. It manages to strike a balance between demonstrating the realities of a mental handicap and being too preachy. It may have some flaws, but the amazing performances by its two stars help Rain Man earn its place as a lovable piece of entertainment and an authentic portrayal of living with a person with mental disabilities.