Just about every card-carrying cinephile has a dreaded “List of Shame”...that short list of undisputed classics they always meant to see, but for one reason or another, must confess they haven’t gotten around to it yet. Until now, Rain Man was one of the movies on mine.
Despite being 1988’s biggest film and winning a fistful of Oscars (including Best Picture), I wasn’t much of a Tom Cruise fan at the time, and even though I’d seen many great Dustin Hoffman films, I never thought any of them were necessarily great because of him. And to be completely honest, the basic premise didn’t hold any real appeal. Then again, I once thought the same thing about Bad Day at Black Rock, another film once on my List of Shame that’s now among my all time favorites.
But at the very least, the opportunity to review Rain Man on 4K allowed me to scratch another title off that list. So these are the immediate takeaways from a newbie catching a 35 year old classic for the first time…
- Considering his penchant for playing characters who display a certain level of cockiness (especially in the '80s), Cruise is perfectly cast. I’d even argue his performance is the best one in the entire film, effectively depicting Charlie Babbitt's transformation from crass to caring, which is the crux of the story.
- Hoffman won an Oscar for his role as autistic brother Ray Babbitt, but while he certainly conveys many of the mannerisms of someone afflicted with autism, it’s a comparatively one-note performance (which I suppose is the point). In some ways, Hoffman's portrayal of Ray is similar to that of the forger he played in Papillon, Louis Dega
- I was once under the impression that the song, “Iko Iko,” was prominent throughout the movie, but it’s only heard during the opening titles. Thank god, because it’s second only to "The Hamster Dance" as the most obnoxious song of all time. The most evocative musical moments come courtesy of Hans Zimmer (of whom I’m a big fan), providing his first noteworthy film score.
- As road movies go, Rain Man is very enjoyable, with many episodic moments of internal and external conflict, the latter of which are generally resolved within the same scene. The overall story arc - Charlie kidnapping brother Ray until he gets his fair share of the inheritance left by their dad - feels a little contrived, but isn’t what ends up driving the narrative anyway.
- The final act is sweet and poignant without becoming maudlin. I’m not sure if I expected something with more melodramatic high and lows, but its most emotionally affecting moments are wonderfully understated. Late in the film, the brief scene where Ray and Charlie share a silent moment with their heads together rendered me a bit misty.
- This isn’t an entirely accurate depiction of autism. Then again, it isn’t a documentary, so I don’t care. Still, this aspect of the film arguably dates it more than anything else.
- Of the films nominated for Best Picture that year, Rain Man probably deserved to win. Then again, it wasn’t pitted against a particularly strong batch of contenders. In a perfect world, Who Framed Roger Rabbit would have swept the 1988 Oscars. But my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt, because even after seeing this, I still think The Bay is director Barry Levinson’s best movie.
Still, Rain Man is a film worth seeing, even belatedly, so finally striking it from my personal List of Shame was time well spent. Having never seen it until now, I can’t draw any comparisons between the 4K transfer of this disc to previous releases, but the overall picture and sound quality are pretty solid, with an interesting selection of vintage bonus features thrown in for good measure.
4K & BLU-RAY COPIES
FEATURETTES - “The Journey of Rain Man” (a decent retrospective documentary, featuring numerous interviews); “Lifting the Fog: A Look at the Mysteries of Autism” (an interesting examination of autism itself…somewhat different than depicted in the movie).
3 AUDIO COMMENTARIES - 1) By director Barry Levinson; 2) By co-writer Barry Morrow; 3) By co-writer Ronald Bass.