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I am the type of person that almost always goes into a film about mental illness with a degree of cynicism. It just seems to me that, by their very nature, these films are designed to manipulate an audience by playing on their sympathies. If you end up not liking the film, it can seem like an attack on whatever illness is being portrayed. However, Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man feels so achingly realized, I can’t help but sit transfixed, mesmerized by the magic trick he is pulling off on screen.
Hoffman becomes Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant struggling to stay sane within his own insanity. When I watch this performance, I see a man trapped within his own head, a prisoner to his own idiosyncracies. When he becomes agitated, he retreats into the Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First” routine, but there is no humor there. It’s an escape, and it’s moments like this that are just hearbreaking.
Every mannerism is perfectly realized to this end, and it’s still one of Hoffman’s greatest performances. Tom Cruise gives an equally fantastic performance as Charlie Babbitt, Raymond’s brother. When the film begins, Charlie is a money-obsessed lamborghini dealer. He too appears trapped within his own head, confined by greed. Letting money dictate his life, he alienates those around him, even his own girlfriend. When his father dies, he goes to collect what he believes will be a substantial inheritance, only to get a car and his father’s prize rose bushes. It is when he follows the trail of the money he didn’t receive that he discovers his long lost older brother, Raymond.
This is where the film really begins, as Charlie takes Raymond on a cross-country road trip to try and get the rest of the inheritance that Charlie believes is rightfully his. Of course, along the way, they get to really know each other, and while Charlie doesn’t completely transform as a character, he does become a better person.
This is a funny and serious look at two people suffering from their own mental issues. One is a literal disease, and the other is a state-of-mind. The way these two characters play off of each other in their journey makes for a believable and entertaining film, and one that works despite the difficulties of the genre. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray release doesn’t include any new features. There are a few extras, but they all seem as if they came from previous releases.
There are three commentary tracks, one with director Barry Levinson, and the other two with the writers. While all three are interesting in spurts, there’s nothing that makes them “must-listen” tracks. There’s also a fairly entertaining behind-the-scenes documentary called “The Journey of Rain Man,” that provides a look at the making of the film. Next up is a documentary called “Lifting the Fog: A Look at the Mysteries of Autism,” which is exactly what it sounds like. An interesting look at the disease that inspired the fim, this feature contains insight and interviews with people who really suffer from the disease, and those who influenced the writing of the film. There is also a single deleted scene, and the original trailer.
The picture looks good, but is nothing outstanding. It’s a decent transfer, but it seems like it could have been cleaned-up a little bit more. There is nothing distractingly bad about it, there’s just nothing all that stunning either. The film sounds great, however, especially in a sequence where Charlie takes Raymond to Vegas to count cards.
Overall, the Blu-Ray release is nothing special, but the film definitely is. I’ve seen the movie before, but I was struck by just how powerful the performances really are. A well-deserved winner of 4 Academy-Awards, this is a really great movie, and a worthy addition to any film collection.