This is the type of film that the Oscar Awards people love. They just eat up this type of schmaltzy stuff. Though admittedly this is well-done schmaltz. It won Best Picture, Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Pretty much cleaned up in 1988.
Los Angeles car dealer who never met a dollar he didn’t love, Charlie (Tom Cruise – Mission:Impossible, The Last Samurai) is estranged from his father. After his father’s death and the reading of his will Charlie finds out two shocking things. That he has an older brother he didn’t know about and that he is not getting a cent of his father’s money. His autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman – Hook, All the President’s Men) is in charge of their departed father’s entire $3 million dollars. In order to get some of the money, Charlie decides he is going to “take care” of Raymond. Easier said than done, though.
Raymond will not fly to Los Angeles, so the two brothers set off on a cross country road trip from Cincinnati to L.A.. The autism Raymond has makes him not want to drive along main highways and they have to be by the television every day for The People’s Court or there is a meltdown. Hot headed Charlie is pushed to his limits time and time again. But all this makes him realize what a self-absorbed life he has been living. Along that trip each of the brothers discovers new stuff about each other and themselves.
What Dustin Hoffman did with this role is astounding. He literally becomes the character. Due to the autism Raymond cannot communicate the same way you and I do, so Hoffman had to come up with stuff that give the viewers an idea of what Raymond’s life was like and not make him into one big cliché. He made everything he did believable. Well, some things like his savant math skills were quite unbelievable, but he did nothing to demean what it means to be a person with autism.
Even Tom Cruise, who has never been my favourite actor, did well. He is an arrogant prick until he no longer has to be one. Then you are glad that the brothers got together and it warms your heart how much Raymond taught his brother about life and himself. Cruise ably shows these nuances. Taking his character from a hated one to one we would almost want to buy a car from.
To round out the great performances there is director Barry Levinson (Sleepers, Wag the Dog). He just uses a light touch on the film and lets the story unfold naturally at its own pace. A good story will make a good film nine times out of ten and Levinson understands that. As a result it is a film you can watch over and over.
-The Journey of Rain Man – A Retrospective Documentary
– Lifting The Fog: A Look At The Mysteries of Autism