OCTOBER 16, 2008
I credit Rain Man with being the first “actually good” movie I ever liked as a kid. Not that the F13 sequels and John Candy movies I liked when I was 8 or 9 are bad, but none of them were even nominated for Best Picture, let alone won (though I stand by my belief that if not for Platoon, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives would have been a shoe-in for 1986). But Rain Man was a personal favorite, and I watched it all the time throughout the next ten years. It’s been a while (fuck you, Mick – time is NOT on my side), but the movie still compels, and makes me wish I had the patience (or talent) to write anything but horror movie reviews and animated shorts.
This one is just chock full of subtle moments and gestures that add immensely to what could have been a rather standard buddy road movie. Indeed, it had many screenwriters and was sort of tossed into theaters unceremoniously, before going on to win Best Picture (not to mention the all important “Made more money than any other movie released that year” award; this was back when people actually SAW the Best Picture nominees). Early on, Charlie (Cruise) freaks out and says definitely over and over, foreshadowing his brother’s frequent use of that word. Very late in the film, we see Cruise eating a cheesball off of a toothpick, a habit of his brother’s that he denounced in the first of many diner scenes in the film. In the hands of a hack (or a modern director who needs to spell everything out for the idiots movies are made for today), the toothpick/cheeseball combo would be given a closeup, and maybe a line of dialogue (“Look Ray, I am eating the same way you do, instead of being mean to you about it!”) to make sure Joe Sixpack “got it”.
It’s also a very funny movie. If there was ever a sort of award for making the funniest non-comedies ever, it would be given to Cruise. Along with A Few Good Men, Rain Man is much funnier than even the legit comedies he has appeared in over the years. Dustin Hoffman gets the bulk of the laughs (“K-Mart SUCKS!” was a frequently rewound line as a kid), but Cruise gets plenty of choice moments as well. “When Abbott and Costello do it, it’s funny. You’re the comedy team of Abbott and Abbott!”
Like Shawshank, in the end, it’s just the rare movie that focuses on two guys bonding over a period of time. No need for women to distract (Valeria Golino’s character is fairly superfluous, and thankfully written out for about 75% of the movie) the attention away from what’s really appealing about the film; watching two great actors completely embody characters you like, both embodying the role of “main character” (it’s worth noting that Hoffman is given top billing, while Cruise has more screentime) and striking the perfect balance between drama and light comic elements (I’d never call either a “comedy”).
The DVD has three audio commentaries. I listened to the one with Barry Levinson (the other two are by the screenwriters) and wished I hadn’t bothered, as he mostly just watches the movie and most of what he says concerns changes to the script, something the screenwriters would have probably been better authorities on anyway. But time is, as always, a factor, so I didn’t get to listen to the others. There is also a nice deleted scene (not quite sure where it would fit in – it seems to be an alternate version of the “Don’t Walk” scene where instead of stopping in the street, Raymond is harassed in a store before Charlie rescues him) and a cheezo Featurette from 1988, plus the awful trailer. I would have liked some Cruise and Hoffman input, but alas.
What say you?