'Rain Man' is a far more complicated and black comedy than director Barry Levinson has tried in his previous hits: 'Good Morning, Vietnam,' 'The Natural,' 'Tin Men,' and 'Diner.'
But it takes risks with intimacy and realism and relationships that spring it far beyond Levinson's past films. The risks get mixed results. 'Rain Man,' starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, is sometimes incredibly tender, at other moments, brutally cruel, often, langorous, other times, choppy and frenetic.
Still, the mish-mash makes up a collage that's haunting and memorable. Cruise and Hoffman are quite surprising together, generating appeal and interest in these off-the-beaten-track characters.
Charlie Babbitt, played by Cruise, is a slick hustler with a heart turned stone by a childhood he feels cheated by. His mother died young, his strict father rarely showed affection to him -- and never told him about an older brother, Raymond, played by Hoffman. When the brothers' father dies, he leaves his considerable wealth to Raymond, prompting Charlie's discovery of his brother, an autistic savant, in an institution. Charlie then proceeds to use his brother as a bargaining chip to grab what he feels is his share of the inheritance.
While taking Raymond on a cross-country ride, however, Charlie learns more about himself and his past than he has bargained for.
There is undeniable humor in the pairing of these two, one a con man and the other someone who can calculate and record numbers with incredible precision, but can't distinguish between a dollar bill and $100. The possibilities of mischief are countless, and Levinson explores them with cool wit. Almost as numerous are the heart-wrenching scenes of cruelty between this heartless brother and his utterly dependent brother.
The conflicts raised and solved give rise to Cruise's best acting turn to date. For Hoffman, the near-perfect performance as Raymond is astounding, so totally convincing is he in all the rigorous and complicated routines of the so-called idiot savant.
The story may be too black for many looking for a light comedy, or entertainment-escape. But it's a film that's haunting in the way it unravels the love at the core of two brothers who discover each other. That nugget of love is at center of all Levinson's films, the nugget that pulls his films into your heart while making you laugh.
To that tradition, no matter what risks he takes -- and fails at or wins -- Levinson is true again in 'Rain Man.'
This film is rated R. Movie contains some sexual content.