Tonight I watched a movie for my project with my wife. This was one of three options, and since it has been a long time since I saw this film, I went in with a basic understanding of what would happen, but otherwise with little expectation or previous experience.
Charlie (Cruise) is left with virtually nothing when his father dies, but finds out instead that he has an older brother he’s never known about. Charlie and his dad had a non-existent relationship for quite some time, and they parted on less than nice terms. Charlie is egotistical, self-centered, and is willing to step on as many toes as possible to get what he wants. He meets Raymond (Hoffman), his autistic older brother who has been institutionalized for many years, but can retain a tremendous amount of information. They venture from Cincinnati to Los Angeles via driving because Raymond refuses to fly. They spend 6 days together and develop an unlikely but strong brotherly relationship. Charlie realizes there is more to his brother than a way to what he thinks is his rightful inheritance.
The plot is predictable: self-centered man serves his own interests at everyone else’s cost, struggles through a lot, and in the end changes and genuinely cares about someone else. “The brilliance of the film is borne out more in its simplicity than any daring attempts at boundary breaking.” While the plot is predictable, it works, and it works great. The length to which Raymond pushes Charlie, most of the time unaware of this, stresses the limits that Charlie is pushed to, and the resulting appreciation and relationship he has with his brother.
The true star of this film, far and away, is Dustin Hoffman. Having seen him in a number of other films, this role is unique, and the drastic change from his other roles is a testament to his acting abilities. He took home the Oscar for Best Actor, and it is more than deserved. “Dustin Hoffman takes character acting to a new level in this film and the rapport between the two leads is the ultimate secret of its success.” I can’t say that I’ve been around anyone for a lengthy time who was autistic, but that has to be a stretch that takes a lot of talent to stay in character with as much genuineness that Hoffman puts into his role.
Tom Cruise also brings a lot to the film. This was in the middle of what I consider the best acting of his career. He becomes more than just a self-centered jerk out for money. Whether he is repulsed by and indifferent to his brother, or fighting to retain custody of him so he doesn’t have to go back to the institution, Cruise does it with strong conviction and the chemistry between him and Hoffman is central to making this film worthy of the Best Picture Oscar.
Something I take from this film is a reminder and appreciation for those who work with people with mental illnesses, like autism. The fact that I know I wouldn’t be able to handle it on a regular basis and certain not as a career. However, I know that when it comes to family, everything changes.
I would watch this film again if I was watching it with others. The on-screen chemistry in Rain Man makes the movie great, and the simplicity of the story adds a tremendous amount of value and depth to this film.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars