Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rain Man Blu-ray Review

This improbable pairing of Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as brothers in a movie about autism seemed like an unlikely contender for success, but it not only succeeded both commercially and critically, but it also won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and a well-deserved Best Actor award for Dustin Hoffman.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

Tom Cruise plays Charlie Baggett, a greedy self-centered man who has made his living hustling others ever since he was kicked out of the house by his father.  At this point in his life, Charlie is playing a shell game with the bank and his customers who want their money back.  Charlie owes money to the bank for a loan for lamborghinis he planned to sell until the EPA notified him that they needed to be modified before they could be sold.  With his business on the line, Charlie is lying to everyone in order to buy himself enough time to raise the money.  When he hears that his father has died, Charlie and his girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) go to Ohio hoping to get some money from his father’s estate.
After the will is read Charlie finds out that his father has only left him his prize roses and a classic convertible Buick Roadmaster.   It turns out that the bulk of the estate to the tune of 3 million dollars has been left in a trust fund for a mental hospital for no apparent reason.  When Charlie travels to the hospital to discover why his father did that, he eventually runs into a patient that is admiring the Buick and claims that his father used to let him drive it.  At that point Charlie quickly discovers that he has an autistic brother named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) of whom he has no recollection of growing up with.
Raymond is an autistic savant who in certain areas is a mathematical genius who can count hundreds of matches at a glance but can’t give a correct answer for a simple math question.  He lives his own world that is ruled by his schedule which includes watching The People’s Court and Jeopardy at their scheduled times or it makes him extremely upset.  Charlie’s first instinct is to kidnap Raymond and hold him ransom for half of the money which upsets Susanna who is getting tired of Charlie’s greediness and lies and she decides to leave him and return home.
With his business faltering and having just been notified that he needs to come up with an additional $80,000 to get his cars that were seized by the bank, Charlie grows even more desperate and decides to take Raymond with him back to Los Angeles.  Unfortunately for Charlie, Raymond is scared to death of airplane travel because of the crashes throughout history all of which he has memorized.  With no other option available, Charlie is forced to take Raymond across the country on a road trip in their father’s Buick which allows the brothers the chance to connect and for Charlie to learn how to care care about someone other than himself.
This film really deserves all the awards and praise it’s received over the years. Dustin Hoffman’s nuanced portrayal of Raymond earned him a well-deserved Oscar and it really set the bar for all other actors to aspire to.  I’ve known some autistic people in my life and Hoffman captured their mannerisms and speech perfectly.  Not every autistic person is as high functioning as Raymond, but there are many who have similar abilities.  As good as Hoffman is in the role, this movie needed Tom Cruise just as much to serve as the driving force for the movie. Cruise does an incredible job and has never gotten the respect he deserved for this.  His Charlie Babbitt is driven, greedy, emotionally distant, and angry at his father and what’s become of his life.  Cruise had to portray all of those feelings but also had to show how that kind of person could grow to love the autistic brother he didn’t remember.
A lot of the enjoyment of the movie comes from watching Charlie react to Raymond’s idiosyncrasies such as needing underwear from a certain K-Mart and nowhere else.  By the end of the movie it’s touching to see Charlie trying to get through to Raymond and the small ways in which Raymond actually responds. What makes this movie different than most Oscar bait is that it doesn’t serve up an ending where everything is fixed and happiness abounds.  All of the characters change in some ways but more importantly, they remain as they were at the start of the movie which is a lot more realistic especially for Raymond as autism isn’t something that can be magically cured.   But in the end, the journey does seem to benefit both brothers and one gets the feeling that their relationship will only get better as time goes on.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The film offers a 1080p (1.85:1) transfer that is better than the previous DVD release but not as good as I was hoping for.  For a Best Picture winner, I thought the movie would get remastered and look fantastic but that’s sadly not the case. There’s a lot of grit and grain present more-so than usual for a movie that’s only 15 years old.  The outside shots look good but there’s several scenes that are poor with some looking washed out or soft.  Black levels are good but flesh tones are on the warm side with reddish hues throughout the movie.  Colors are acceptable especially during the cross country drive and when they arrive in Las Vegas.  Overall, this is still better than the earlier releases but this definitely could have used a new transfer.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix fares better than its video quality.  While a dialogue driven front channel experience, the score for the movie by Hans Zimmer seems to get the majority of the attention and it sounds great.  There isn’t a lot for the satellite speakers to do except provide some ambiance for a few scenes like the mental hospital and the casino in Las Vegas.  Dialogue is clear and bright and never overshadowed by the score.  Some of the sound effects are louder than the rest of the movie but I believe that was a creative decision by the director.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

There really isn’t a whole lot of extras offered, but what is given is at least interesting.  The major thing this release is lacking is any participation from its main stars: Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.  Why they weren’t asked to participate or chose not to is puzzling and unfortunate since they played such a huge role in the movie’s success.  For a four time Academy Award winner, I expected a more deluxe set.  Ont he plus side, it does offer three separate commentaries from people directly connected with the genesis of the movie.
  • Audio Commentaries – Three commentaries by Director Barry Levinson, Writer Barry Morrow, and Writer Ronald Bass – All three commentaries are informative in different ways.  For example, Levinson talks about how he got the job and the other directors that worked on it before him, Morrow talks about his mentally challenged friend Bill who inspired the idea for Raymond, and Bass talks about getting hired and fired through the succession of directors who were attached to the movie. All are worth listening to if you want to learn more.
  • “The Journey of Rain Man” – A retrospective documentary that last about thirty minutes with director Barry Levinson and the two writers Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass.  It was pretty good but would have been a lot better with Hoffman and Cruise.
  • “Lifting the Fog: A Look at the Mysteries of Autism” – An interesting look at autism and a conversation with some of the autistic people that Raymond was patterned after.  Health-care professionals discuss the impact and importance of the movie.
  • Deleted Scenes – A short segment that shows the store where Raymond got his cheese balls after walking away from Charlie.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

This is a great film that contains a lot of laughs and drama and balances the two perfectly and I think this is Barry Levinson’s best film.  Hoffman and Cruise deliver incredible performances and it’s a shame that Cruise didn’t pick up an Oscar along with Hoffman.  While this release doesn’t offer the audio/video quality I was hoping for, it is a lot better than any previous release.  If you haven’t seen the film then you owe it to yourself to make some time to watch it.
Pick up your copy today!

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