1988 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #324: Rain Man (1988)

We come to the end of our trio of Hoffman films with another movie that saw him on Oscar-winning form. His role as Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man also saw Hoffman employ the highest amount of method acting we’ve seen from him so far.

Raymond is a high-functioning autistic who has lived in an institute since he was young after his parents were afraid that he’d hurt his younger brother. Due to this his brother Charlie never knew he existed until after the death of their father who left all of his money to Raymond. A product of the 1980s, Charlie is a used car salesman with a beautiful European girlfriend and a fast-talking mouth. Following the death of his mother, he and his father had an incredibly strained relationship and barely talked until his death. Furious that he’s been swindled out of his inheritance, Charlie essentially kidnaps Raymond from his house and takes him back to L.A. in an attempt to get half of his money. To add insult to injury, Raymond doesn’t even understand the concept of money so Charlie’s even more mad that he’s now in possession of three million dollars. As Raymond hates to fly, Charlie is forced to drive cross country and along the way starts to learn more about his brother. Initially Raymond’s outbursts annoy Charlie but he soon learns to cope with them and is later astonished to discover that his brother was his imaginary friend ‘Rain Man’ that helped him cope during his childhood. The trip climaxes in a trip to Las Vegas in which Charlie uses Raymond’s extraordinary abilities with numbers to swindle a casino out of thousands of dollars. Ultimately the film comes down to whether a bond can develop between family members or if Charlie’s greed will mean he’s willing to put a price on his new-found relationship with Raymond.

Having seen Rain Man before, I knew what to expect and perhaps the reason that I found a lot of it quite over-the-top. I found the screenplay to be incredibly deliberate and the character of Raymond in particular was fairly over-bearing at times. Though I’m sure writers Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass did their research before creating the character, Raymond’s autism feels like a plot device at times rather than something that is particularly well-drawn. Thankfully, Hoffman brings the character to life and this is the first time that we’ve seen him play a particularly middle-aged character. In the six years between Tootsie and Rain Man he appears to have aged significantly and the disparity between his ageing features and Raymond’s childlike nature make for a great balance. But for all the plaudits that Hoffman received for the film, including the Best Actor Oscar, I felt that Tom Cruise gave the better performance as Charlie. At the time Cruise was a big movie star with films like Top Gun and Cocktail putting him on the map. But it was in Rain Man that we first saw that he could really hold his own against an acting great like Hoffman. Cruise is forced to turn Charlie from an arrogant salesman into a loving brother and he portrays the transformation beautifully. The chemistry between Cruise and Hoffman builds throughout Rain Man and in my opinion is one of the reasons for its success. I found that both John Seale’s cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s score to be the film’s other positive attributes with the former capturing the American highway during the brothers’ journey. Though it may be forced at times, Rain Man is certainly a very good film that is made better by the performances of both Cruise and Hoffman. Oddly, after all of his success in the last two decades, Hoffman wouldn’t appear in another Best Picture nominee again for another sixteen years. But I feel that the three films above all demonstrate his terrific range and show why he’s regarded as one of the best actors of his generation


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