Rain Man (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Rain Man (1988)

I have had an idea for an award show called The Reallys!.  This show would look back at some highly contested and disputed Oscar winners and see if the winner stood the test of time or was just a passing fad.  It could then award an honorary Oscar to the more deserving film, actor or filmmaker.  10-15 years would had to have passed to see if the panel of critics, journalists and respected industry professionals believed the disputed Oscar Winner was still as good or faded with time.

This award show would right many wrongs,  so hello Best Picture award for Raging Bull, sorry Ordinary People.  Also, Mr. Redford, if you could look to your left and hand your best director trophy to Mr. Scorcese, that would be much appreciated.   Tough break English Patient, but no one really remembers caring much about you, and Forrest Gump, you might still be loved, but how did you beat both Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption?  Shakespeare in Love and Crash, be forewarned, don’t expect to keep your title when the spotlight is on you.

I was thinking about this awards show a lot while watching 1988’s Rain Man.  Here is a movie that won Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay at the Academy Awards and on first glance, might have been a product of its time.  Then, I saw the other movies that were released and up for awards that year, and decided that, Rain Man truly did deserve the awards in what was an off year for Hollywood.  (The Accidental Tourist? Working Girl?!)

I was really not looking forward to watching this film because the few times I had seen it before, I was unimpressed.  It was an entertaining film but I could not understand how it could be the most popular film at the box office and with Academy members.  When I rewatched it, I got more enjoyment out of it then I would have thought and the movie has a great pace to it, but I still found nothing that really wowed me.  Yet, I can’t think of any movie released that year that would deserve the awards and recognition anymore, except of course Die Hard, but that would only happen in my perfect world. Rain Man is essentially an Oscar Bait film that never tries to be anything but that.  It is a clichéd road movie complete with the classic car and nostalgic soundtrack but it handles its clichés with style and talent.

As I have mentioned in this series before, it is hard to look at some of these movies with fresh eyes because they were so popular and successful that they ingrained themselves into popular culture.  Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Raymond is one of those cases, and he was the forefather to a similar character I will be talking about soon, Forrest Gump.  Everyone knows his mannerisms, the way he dressed and his catchphrases.

Famous scenes have been parodied to death and I know that I cannot think of the role in the same light ever again after the famous speech in Tropic Thunder given by Robert Downey Jr.  This is a shame because what is lost is a great, unsympathetic performance by Dustin Hoffman.  What I mean by unsympathetic is not that he is an ass, but he never goes for the sappy or cuddly approach to this man.  He portrays Raymond as what he is, a man with a disability that does not know or care that something is “wrong” about him and goes along about his day the best he can.   Hoffman plays the role not as actor trying to get the audience to like him but as an actor 100% invested in his role, and that is why it works.  Audiences, for the most part, know when they are being played and if Hoffman would have made Raymond more of a caricature and less of a character, the movie would not have worked and it would not have made nearly as much money.

Everyone is quick to praise Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man but I believe that Tom Cruise had just as much to do with the success of the film.  Cruise might have actually had the tougher role to navigate because he had to be both unlikable but also human enough that people could get why he was so exasperated a lot of the time.  He is an actor that enough times could just skate by on his charm and make millions of dollars, but, starting with this movie, Cruise really starting requiring more out of himself and he became not just the heartthrob, but an interesting actor in such movies as Jerry Maguire, Minority Report, Magnolia and Collateral.

Rain Man might not be my favorite film of all time, but I am man enough to admit that I had no real reason to avoid it like I did.  It was an expertly made road picture where characters meet “real Americans” and life lessons are learned while getting into kooky predicaments. But I believe it could have been more, and while I don’t think that Hoffman's, Cruise's and (to a lesser extent) director Barry Levinson’s talents were wasted on this film, I do think that in this movie that played it somewhat safe and predictable, was a great film yearning to get out.

Posted by Ryan

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