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After an autistic savant inherits three million dollars from his deceased father, his younger brother, in an attempt to trick him out of the money, learns some valuable lessons of life.

Barry Levinson
Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, Jack Murdock, Michael D. Roberts, Ralph Seymour, Lucinda Jenney, Bonnie Hunt
Writing Credits:
Roanld Bass, Barry Morrow

Rated R.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Actor-Dustin Hoffman.
Nominated for Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score-Hans Zimmer.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Digital Mono
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 133 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 9/3/1997

• Theatrical Trailer

Score soundtrack
Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Rain Man (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 3, 1997)

Someday I may understand why a hack like Barry Levinson enjoys such a stellar reputation as a filmmaker, but not today. For now, I'll have to remain mystified as I discuss the jewel in his crown, 1988's Rain Man, that year's top-grossing film and also the winner of the Best Picture Oscar.

That money-prize sweep happens fairly infrequently, as it only seems to occur about once or twice a decade. The Nineties saw it twice, with Titanic in 1997 and Forrest Gump in 1994, and the Seventies also got a two-fer, with Rocky in 1976 and The Godfather in 1972. For the Eighties, however, Rain Man was it, and even that victory occurred only because 1988 was a pretty weak year at the box office; except for in 1987, it would have placed no higher than second in any of the other years during that decade.

Still, $172 million for a drama about an autistic man and his selfish brother isn't too shabby; too bad the movie itself bites. As much as I dislike Rain Man, I can't claim it's the worst movie in the Levinson pantheon, not with such dreck as Toys and Avalon to his discredit. Nonetheless, RM remains a clunker, one whose lack of charm comes through more clearly on every viewing.

One reason I so dislike Levinson's work is because he telegraphs his emotions so bluntly. Leni Riefenstahl didn't manipulate audiences as harshly as does Levinson. Avalon marked the nadir of this tendency, but RM suffers from it as well. with scene after scene that clearly sets up the audience for his desired emotional reaction, whether through mystical awe (the diner bit) or fear (the fire in the kitchen) or cuteness (most of the rest of this drivel).

Oh, that cuteness! That was easily the most insufferable aspect of this movie. Some would claim Rain Man did more to educate the American public about autism than any other work, but I feel it did more to miseducate people about the disorder, for Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) barely resembles any autistic person I've ever met, and since I work with some autistic kids through my job, I feel pretty qualified to say that.

As portrayed in this movie, Raymond is either an adorable little pixie (most of the film) or is a screeching terror (occasionally). It's clear that the latter instances occur only to added "depth" to the story; they let Levinson think he's making a serious picture that tells us what it's really like to be around someone with autism.

What a crock. Hoffman got a very-undeserved Oscar for his work as Raymond, which shows how ridiculous the Academy Awards can be (especially since this deprived Tom Hanks a prize for his wonderfully rich and nuanced turn in Big). As played by Hoffman, Raymond is nothing more than a one-dimensional cartoon character with no basis in reality. This isn't acting of any scope or talent; I could play the role equally well, and I don't say that out of bravado - Hoffman just does nothing subtle or special in the part.

Better is Tom Cruise as Raymond's scam artist brother Charlie who essentially kidnaps Raymond to cash in on an inheritance but who - inevitably - develops love and affection for the cute l'il fella. Cruise is stuck with all the work in the movie since he has to react realistically to the events around him - unlike Hoffman, who acts in a vacuum - and he shows the only real character development in the film, since Raymond is exactly the same at the end as at the beginning. Still, there's only so much Cruise can do with material this stale and transparent; he performs adequately but gives us little reason to care.

Rain Man felt like a series of vaguely connected "moments". We find a series of scenes with no great relationship to each other except for the fact they let us see more wackiness from Raymond. He adds toothpicks, he counts cards, he farts, he says "K-Mart sucks". None of this has anything to do with anything, but that dude sure is cute, isn't he?

Nope. Back in grad school, I wrote a paper that condemned the inaccuracies in Rain Man and even more fully cataloged my disgust with it; I wish I still had it around, as I could have just posted it and saved me some trouble. That was almost a decade ago, and another viewing of this "classic" hasn't changed my mind; if anything, my interactions with real autistic people have made me even more annoyed at the film. This is sentimental hogwash and nothing more.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B+ / Bonus D-

Rain Man appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was screened for this review. The picture displayed some flaws but generally looked pretty good.

Sharpness seemed consistently decent although it probably could have appeared a slight bit more crisp; the image never truly looked soft, per se, but it was a bit dull at times. Moiré effects and jagged edges are not a problem, and I noticed only a few instances of artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws presented a few concerns, though not a tremendous amount; I detected slight grain at times, and a few blotches, speckles and nicks mar the presentation on occasion.

Colors seemed adequately saturated and were generally accurate, though some gauziness appeared at times. Films from the Eighties often display similarly muddled hues, and these were not bad to any extent; they just had that "Eighties look" and seemed a little less realistic than I'd like. Black levels seemed very good, with consistently rich and deep tones, and shadow detail was excellent; the film offers many low-light situations, and these came through winningly. The mild concerns I've raised caused me to lower my grade to a "B", but overall, Rain Man presents a pretty solid image.

To my surprise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was quite strong. To begin with, I was startled to find a 5.1 mix - I expected Dolby Surround - and I also didn't think it'd sound so good; the track betrays a few problems, but it usually seems very clear and bold. The soundfield sticks mainly to the front; music spreads nicely to the sides, with a modicum of ambient sound blending on the left and right as well. The surrounds support the score very nicely - it's easily the best part of the mix - and they also add some mild reinforcement for effects. It's not a dazzling mix, but it works well.

The quality seems inconsistent but generally positive. Dialogue is the weakest aspect; although it sounds distinct and intelligible, it can appear dull or flat, and it also displays some slight distortion on occasion. Effects also suffer from some muddiness, but they usually seem clear and realistic, and they betray some solid low end at times. Best of all is the music, which sounds terrifically bright and bold, with excellent dynamic range; the bass shook the walls much better than I'd expect from a 1988 film. It didn't make me like the movie, but the soundtrack nonetheless added to the experience.

Time for my now-standard complaint: why do films that win Best Picture so often end up with virtually featureless DVDs? Rain Man includes a theatrical trailer but nothing else. Blehh!

Not that they'd make this dreck any more palatable. I've disliked a fair number of Best Picture winners, but I reserve a special level of distaste for this junk. Honestly, Rain Man can be an entertaining film but it's so insanely phony and artificially sentimental that it makes me nauseous. The DVD provides pretty good picture and sound but includes virtually no extras. Unless you need your sugar high for the day, Rain Man is a film to skip.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1408 Stars Number of Votes: 71
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