I was a hot mess yesterday, in and out of bed thanks to an action-packed Saturday afternoon, evening and beyond. While I’m known for being an overly indulgent patient, Barry Levinson’s Rain Man helped me get out of my head and back into what matters.
Rain Man is one of my favorites eighties films, a feel good dramedy following a week in the life of Charlie Babbitt (played by a muy guapo Tom Cruise) who discovers he has an autistic older brother named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) following his fathers passing.
Incensed at being passed over in the family will, Charlie takes Raymond hostage in the hopes of forcing his guardians to fork over his share of the family estate. As they make their way back to Los Angeles however, Charlie’s bravado begins to wax and wane as a connection is forged and his heart seeps through.
Written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass, the project stalled for years with a host of A-list directors attached until Levinson took the reigns two weeks out from production. The film is so true to life, of people being so consumed with the nitty gritty that they’re blind to the beauty all around them. In Charlie’s case, that truth is his new passenger, the brother he never knew he had.
To say Hoffman is incredible in the role is an understatement. He disappears altogether, to the extent that I forgot I was watching an actor inhabit the interior life of a character. It’s only fair that he went on to clinch the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Cruise plays out the role with such honesty, an alpha male that struts and clucks from scene to scene in order to keep enough distance between him and his fears. For the truth is Charlie’s newfound relationship with Raymond is all he was looking for, an excuse to confront his ignominious past and move forward in an earnest and honest way.
Barry Levinson is one of my favourite Hollywood directors, a one-of-a-kind storyteller who somehow managed to never sell his soul down the Nile. Films like Diner, Good Morning, Vietnam, Bugsy (my all-time favourite), Wag The Dog and You Don’t Know Jack.
"A story these days is, somebody steals the cocaine, the guy’s trying to get even, his buddy got killed, and he wants revenge. Nice, but that’s not really a story. That’s some kind of thing that you invent to launch a movie. I don’t give a shit about those kinds of stories."
Kim Peek, a real-life savant, was the initial inspiration for Raymond’s character and came to Hollywood to meet with Hoffman prior to the production. I came across this little snippet of Peek on YouTube and was blown away with his uncanny ability to absorb and retain the smallest detail. A truly gifted soul.
We need more movies like Rain Man. Blockbusters without explosions and characters with a compulsion to face the facts, on a journey to becoming more than the sum of their parts.