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RAIN MAN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
Director: Barry Levinson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 134 Minutes
Release Date: February 3, 2004

"Are you disappointed?"

"Disappointed? Why should I be disappointed? I got rose bushes, didn't I? I got a used car, didn't I? This other guy, what'd you call him."

"The beneficiary..."

"Yeah, him, he got three million dollars but he didn't get the rose bushes. I got the rose bushes. I definitely got the rose bushes. Those are rose bushes!"

Film ****

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that it took me this long to finally sit down and discover one of the most treasured films of the past 15 years, Rain Man. It's so ironic that I waited until now to experience it, since I have praised just about every movie director Barry Levinson has made prior to and following this Oscar winning movie. Even as I watch it for the first time now, I'd be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the most fascinating character portraits to ever come around, brought to life by two incredible performances from its two lead actors.

The film begins by introducing us to the brash, over-confident and ultimately self-centered Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise), an L.A. financial yuppie who is on the brink of a crisis within his business. Charlie is also hit with an astonishing bit of news. The news that Charlie's father has just passed away isn't the part that stuns him, but rather the bit involving three million dollars left in the father's will, not of penny left in Charlie's name. It is soon revealed that Charlie's childhood wasn't a pleasant one, and that he resented his father by never calling or visiting once becoming a successful businessman and that not getting anything but a used car and some "rosebushes" was nothing short of payback.

Just as Charlie is left uncertain as to whom the fortune belongs to, he receives another shocking discovery, while at the same time having his question answered. He discovers that, to his astonishment, he has an older brother that nobody even bothered to tell him about. His brother is Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who happens to be a "high-level" autistic, having been institutionalized nearly all of his life. Charlie, being hit with one too many surprises, decides to remove Raymond from the mental home to take him to the brother's home back in California, but it won't be easy.

Raymond is a unique personality if there ever was one. He can go on with conversations, apply himself to any sort of schedule, remember baseball statistics, recite dinner menus, and stockpile knowledge of every name and number listed in a phonebook. He can also erupt into sheer fright and become disturbed quite easily, which is usually triggered by loud noises, unfamiliar elements like bath water, or fear of flying, a fear which forces Charlie to drive Raymond cross country in the 1949 Buick his father left to him.

Without a doubt, the most striking portion of Rain Man comes mid-point in the story as Charlie, informed that his business in L.A. is approaching the brink of being bankrupt, is hit with a spur of the moment plan. Realizing that Raymond is genius in guessing equations, he speeds on over to Las Vegas to use his brother as nothing short of a money making machine. Even though Charlie is essentially as uncaring as a person can get, you kind of understand his motive for choosing to do something of the sort. It goes without saying that eventually he will be hit with a super guilt trip once realizing the unpleasantness of his actions.

Watching the movie, I understood right from minute one why Dustin Hoffman got the Oscar he received for his groundbreaking and heartfelt performance as the mentally challenged brother. Hoffman, one of the purest method actors of our time, is incredible in the way that he never, for one second suggests the breaking of a character. It's a performance, and a very challenging one, that is so very deserving of appreciation in so many ways.

As for Tom Cruise, this could probably be labeled as the first strong stepping point in the actor's career. At this point, Cruise was on his way to near superstar status, and his track record of performances usually consisted of ultimately cocky, but likeable characters as in Top Gun. Although Charlie isn't intended as a likeable character for about 2/3 of the way through, Cruise's performance is indeed the promise that would payoff in later films like Born on the Fourth of July and A Few Good Men. On a side note, it helps to be prepared for a couple of angry/high squeaky voiced Cruise outbursts, which is pretty much what makes Ben Stiller's impression of him so darn hysterical.

In short, director Barry Levinson no doubt made a career defining moment in the creation of Rain Man. It's a pure journey of a movie, and a landmark triumph of storytelling and performance.

BONUS TRIVIA: Barry Levinson himself appears as a doctor near the end of the movie.

Video ***

I cannot offer any comparisons between this release and MGM's first issuing of the movie, which if I'm not mistake came out around the birth of DVD. Having said that, I have a feeling that this one would win the prize in terms of transfer quality. The anamorphic transfer is of exceptional range, especially for a movie from the late 80s. The noted areas of clarity do a much impressive handling of the movie's frequent settings that are within the cross country journey. There's a hint or two of image softness, but they hardly begin to damage the overall quality of the presentation.

Audio **1/2

Despite my rating, I will mention that this 5.1 offering does have it highpoints in the areas of music playback and dialogue delivery. The one element that cuts the credit by half a star is a section or two, about midway through the movie, where I detected a slight case of audio bleeding, which I haven't come across lately. Other than that, the sound quality on the disc is of purely nice audio form.

Features ***1/2

First off, MGM has truly delivered the first great packaged disc of 2004.

This new Special Edition has all of the upgraded material it need to boot itself up from the original, much more standard disc. Included are three commentary tracks; one with Barry Levinson; the next with screenwriter Ronald Bass; the third with co-screenwriter Barry Morrow. Also included is an original featurette, a deleted scene, and a trailer and photo gallery.

Summary:

Rain Man is the cinematic journey worth taking, whether you've seen it many times before, or if you're just now discovering it for the first time, like me. Regardless, it holds up momentum to this day, and mixes the right levels of humor, drama, and all around perfected storytelling.