Rain Man is about a car; it is about a father-son relationship that wasn’t; it is about a man trying to get his “fair share” of an inheritance; it is about two bothers - it is about the Rain Man.
The film, directed by Barry Levinson, comes packed with allegories and will reward multiple viewings. For instance, the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible responsible for breaking the father-son relationship brings the two brothers together. Then there’s the parallel between Charlie Babbit’s (Tom Cruise) past and present. His father would never let him drive the Buick, and, it seems, the Environmental Protection Agency will not clear the four Lamborghinis he has imported either.
The news of his estranged father’s death sends him all the way to Cincinnati, where he finds himself out of a $3 million inheritance. His anger and desire to find out the person the money went to leads him to his autistic savant brother, Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman). Charlie kidnaps Raymond to get his share of the inheritance. But what he does not count on is a three-hour flight to Los Angeles turning into a six-day road trip in the Buick.
The film was screened at Safma Media Centre in F-7 on Friday. The attendance in the small hall was sparse, with fewer than usual people deciding to show up. The screening itself was fine, save for a minor stutter in the middle. The film’s frame, however, felt as if it was stretched. Perhaps the DVD was mastered in 4:3 aspect ratio and not suitable for the widescreen television at the centre.
Though technically a road trip movie, it shares nothing with the modern (and arguably inferior) films that we are treated to nowadays. The focus is on the interactions between the two brothers, rather than the unfamiliar circumstances they find themselves in. It is more about Charlie understanding Ray, and coming to terms with him and his peculiarities, than shoving some unrealistic character development down the audience’s throat. Charlie’s subsequent change of heart thus is more of a suppressed character trait re-emerging than a transformation.
Dustin Hoffman steals the show with his performance. His is an inspired performance that deserves the Oscar he got for the role. It is Ray on the screen and not the legendary actor; you do not think of Ray as a character being played by Hoffman, but as a person.
Tom Cruise as Charie Babbit works too, not because of some amazing performance, but because the role seems to be tailored to Cruise. He looks the part and fits Charlie’s skin as if naturally. He is not given much to work with, however, and his performance pales in comparison to Hoffman.
The emotional growth that his character supposedly experiences over the course of his six-day journey with his brother is not evident from Cruise’s performance. Perhaps it is bad acting, or perhaps that was what Levinson wanted, but the effect of the rather stoic finale gives an open ended interpretation to the film’s conclusion that is more sceptical than reassuring.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2011.
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