It’s quite the honest statement to get behind when I say that the Academy Awards voters love to vote for performances that portray mental or physical ailments in a preverbial, “Hollywood” style. This is probably why Rain Man, the Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman led 80s hit, was such a success at the time. Bagging Hoffman an Oscar, and shooting Cruise further into the fame he’d already grown accustomed to with the likes of Top Gun and Risky Business. Pairing up two of the biggest actors of the generation was the smartest idea going, it’s just a shame that the results are somewhat lukewarm.
Hoffman’s performance here is incredible, and it’s easy to see why so many audiences fell in love with his role as Raymond Babbitt, the older, autistic brother of Cruise’s arrogant Charlie Babbitt. The chemistry between Hoffman and Cruise is lacking at first, but like every stereotypical road trip movie, the two begin to bond over time and an unbreakable bond is formed between two technical strangers. It’s a story as old as time, and is still presented to us in modern films like Green Book and even Bad Grandpa if you want to head down the slapstick route. Either way, it’s a story that can be adapted to any and every genre, so why doesn’t it work well enough here?
Because outside of a strong Dustin Hoffman role, there’s not much else that really shatters my interpretations or opinions on the genre of heart-string pulling film. Rain Man goes right for the jugular in that regard, ramping up the emotional value of its performances from a time when emotive performances were the easiest road to critical acclaim. The film is a product of its time, unfortunately not aging as well as it should have due to some inconsistencies in its narrative and some explosively differing medical opinions on autism.
But a product of its time should not be hindered by progression in the modern world, so it’s a shame that even without that restriction, Rain Man struggles to do anything interesting for the majority of its running time. Banking solely on the reliability of its leading two actors, Rain Man spends too much time focusing on the various pit stops the two find themselves in, rather than on the relationship itself. Charlie Babbitt is such an unlikeable and arrogant character the whole way through it’s extremely difficult to root for him at any point in the film.
A shame too, since Cruise is often a charming individual, look no further than the Mission: Impossible franchise for that, which is basically just James Bond lite. Hoffman and Cruise are great actors, but Rain Man puts them together in such a strangely off-putting way that it’s hard to fully invest in or even enjoy the movie.