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Rain Man is a 1988 comedy-drama film written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass and directed by Barry Levinson. It tells the story of an abrasive yuppie, Charlie Babbitt, who discovers that his estranged father has died and bequeathed all of his multimillion-dollar estate to his other son, Raymond, a savant, of whose existence Charlie was unaware.

The film stars Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbitt, Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, and Valeria Golino as Charlie's girlfriend, Susanna. Morrow created the character of Raymond after meeting Kim Peek, a real-life savant; his characterization was based on both Peek and Bill Sackter, a good friend of Morrow who was the subject of Bill, an earlier film that Morrow wrote. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews at the time of its release, praising Hoffman's role and the wit and sophistication of the screenplay.

The film won four Oscars at the 61st Academy Awards (March 1989), including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor in a leading role for Hoffman. Its crew received an additional four nominations.

Plot

Charlie Babbitt (Cruise), a Los Angelesmarker car dealer in his mid-twenties, is in the middle of importing four grey market Lamborghinis. The deal is being threatened by the EPA, and if Charlie cannot meet its requirements he will lose a significant amount of money. After some quick subterfuge with an employee, Charlie leaves for a weekend trip to Palm Springsmarker with his girlfriend, Susanna (Golino).

Charlie's trip is cancelled by news that his estranged father, Sanford Babbitt, has died. Charlie travels to Cincinnati, Ohiomarker, to settle the estate, where he learns an undisclosed trustee is inheriting $3 million on behalf of an unnamed beneficiary, while all he is to receive is a classic Buick Roadmaster convertible and several prize rose bushes. Eventually he learns the money is being directed to a mental institution, and it is the home of his autistic brother, Raymond (Hoffman), whose existence Charlie has not known about up to this point.

Raymond is an autistic savant, with superb recall but little understanding of subject matter. He is frightened by change and adheres to strict routines (for example, his continual repetition of the "Who's on First?" sketch). Except when he is in distress, he shows little emotional expression and avoids eye contact.

Numbed by learning that he has a brother and determined to get what he believes is his fair share of the Babbitt estate, Charlie takes Raymond on what becomes a cross-country trip back to Los Angelesmarker to meet with his attorneys. He intends to start a custody battle in order to get Raymond's doctor, Dr. Bruner (Molen), to settle out of court for half of Sanford Babbitt's estate so that they can maintain custody of Raymond.

During the course of the journey, Charlie learns about Raymond's condition, which he initially believes is curable — resulting in frustration with his brother. He also learns about how his brother came to be separated from his family, as a result of an accident when he was left alone with Charlie when Charlie was a baby. Sometimes shallow and exploitative, as when he learns that Raymond has an excellent memory and takes him to Las Vegasmarker to win money at blackjack counting cards, Charlie nonetheless finds himself becoming protective of Raymond and has grown to truly love him.

Charlie finally meets with his attorney to try to get his share of his inheritance, but then considers taking custody of Raymond. However, at a meeting with a court-appointed psychiatrist and Dr. Bruner, Raymond is unable to decide exactly what he wants. Eventually, the psychiatrist presses Raymond for a decisive answer, upsetting him and leading Charlie to request that the doctor back off.

Eventually, Raymond is allowed to go back home to Cincinnati. Charlie, who has gained a new brother and mellowed considerably, promises him he'll visit in two weeks.

Hoffman and Cruise in a scene from the film.


Production

Roger Birnbaum was the first studio executive to give the film a green light; he did so immediately after Barry Morrow pitched the story. Birnbaum received "special thanks" in the film's credits.

Agents at CAA sent the script to Hoffman and Bill Murray, envisioning Murray in the title role and Hoffman in the role eventually portrayed by Cruise. Martin Brest, Steven Spielberg, and Sydney Pollack were directors also involved in the film.Principal photography included nine weeks of filming on location, including some scenes at Jualitamarker, a 1907 mansion located in Hollywoodmarker.

Almost all of the principal photography occurred during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike; one key scene that was affected by the lack of writers was the film's final scene. Bass delivered his last rough cut of the script only hours before the strike started and spent no time on the set.

The producers wanted to be sure that the film was accurate in its depiction of autism and got in touch with, among others, Dr. Ruth C. Sullivan, whose son Joseph is an autistic savant. Joseph had been the subject of two documentaries, one as a child and one as an adult. To prepare for his role, Dustin Hoffman met with Joseph, Kim Peek, and others, and studied the hours of outtakes from the documentaries as well as the films themselves. He and Tom Cruise met with Dr. Sullivan and Joseph on the set in Cincinnati, and Dr Sullivan acted as a consultant on the script. Ruth C. Sullivan and Joseph Sullivan were given the last credit in the movie, and Dustin Hoffman thanked them and Kim Peek, among many others, in his Oscar speech.

Reception

Reviews

Rain Man was overall positively received by critics, with a 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.7/10. RT Vincent Canby of The New York Times called Rain Man a "becomingly modest, decently thought-out, sometimes funny film"; Hoffman's performance was a "display of sustained virtuosity . . . [which] makes no lasting connections with the emotions. Its end effect depends largely on one's susceptibility to the sight of an actor acting nonstop and extremely well, but to no particularly urgent dramatic purpose." Canby considered the"film's true central character" to be "the confused, economically, and emotionally desperate Charlie, beautifully played by Mr. Cruise."

Amy Dawes of Variety wrote that "one of the year's most intriguing film premises . . . is given uneven, slightly off-target treatment"; she calls the road scenes "hastily, loosely written, with much extraneous screen time," but admired the last third of the film, calling it a depiction of "two very isolated beings" who "discover a common history and deep attachment."

One of the film's harshest reviews came from New Yorker magazine critic Pauline Kael: "Everything in this movie is fudged ever so humanistically, in a perfunctory, low-pressure way. And the picture has its effectiveness: people are crying at it. Of course they're crying at it — it's a piece of wet kitsch."

Box office

Rain Man debuted on December 16, 1988, and was the second on the weekend's box office (behind Twins), with $7 million. It reached the first spot on the December 30–January 2 weekend, finishing 1988 with $42 million. The film would end up becoming the highest-grossing film of 1988 with $172 million (though most of its gross was garnered in 1989, unlike second place Who Framed Roger Rabbit).

Awards

Rain Man won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Dustin Hoffman), Best Director, and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography (John Seale), Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Original Score.

The film also won a People's Choice Award as the "Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture."

The film also won the Golden Bear at the 1989 Berlin International Film Festival. To date , Rain Man is the only film to have won both the Golden Bear and the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Effect on popular culture

Rain Man inaugurated a common and incorrect media stereotype that people on the autism spectrum typically have savant skills, and references to Rain Man, in particular Dustin Hoffman's performance, have become a popular shorthand for autism and savantism. For instance, in an episode of The Simpsons, "$pringfield", Homer works as a blackjack dealer; one scene features characters resembling Raymond and Charlie Babbit; Raymond was voiced by Dan Castellaneta, while Charlie didn't speak. In City Slickers 2, a discussion of a character's ability to count the letters in a sentence on first hearing it ends in an impersonation of Raymond Babbitt. Also, in one episode of Heroes, the characters Ando and Hiro reenact the escalator scene.

References

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