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Year of release
Plot Charlie Babbitt (Cruise) is a struggling car dealer whose business is under threat. Hope for him and his business comes in the unlikely form of his father's death. Despite being estranged from him, Charlie still believes he should benefit from his father's inheritance which totals $3 million. He is stunned however to find that all he has been left is an old car, while every penny has been left to an unnamed beneficiary, who turns out to be Raymond Babbitt (Hoffman) an autistic brother he never knew he had. In a bid to gain what he believes is his fair share of half the inheritance, Charlie removes Raymond from the mental institution in a form of kidnapping. Needing to make it back to Los Angeles the two become unlikely travel mates, and over time a relationship begins to develop and Charlie find himself changed by the experience.
Finally got around to watching this film, and what I found was a terrifically charming and surprisingly amusing film propelled along by two terrific performances. There are two elements without which the film would fall down; the writing and the actors. I say this because in many ways there isn't a lot to this film, there isn't a great deal that happens in terms of big plot points. It's quite a small personal tale of two characters and the effect that one of them has on the life of the other. So the writing and performances have to be of high calibre to keep our interest piqued throughout. And both succeed with flying colours. The script is highly impressive, mining the premise both for laughs and for the great heart of the story. And while I don't have the experience to say for definite, it certainly feels like the script was well researched on the subject of autism and as a result it feels realistic and respectful.
However even a wonderful script would have been completely wasted if it didn't have the performances to back it up, particularly in the potentially tricky role of the autistic Raymond. And Hoffman is phenomenal in the role of the autistic Raymond Babbitt, completely inhabiting the character. It really is amazing; after a while I kind of forgot I was even watching a 'performance'. Indeed if you were to show this film to someone who was unfamiliar with Hoffman, it would probably be quite easy to convince them that the makers of the film had hired someone with an actual mental disorder. He's that good. However almost due as much credit is Tom Cruise as Raymond's selfish brother Charlie. I think this is the kind of role where Cruise is very good. With his pretty boy good looks, cheesy grin and apparently large degree of self confidence I think he is quite easy to dislike. So this kind of role where he plays a sleazy douchebag fits nicely. His character arc in many ways is what makes the film, and he pulls it off admirably. The film is actually pretty damn close to being a two hander, with only one or two other characters given anything more than mere seconds of screen time. Valeriea Gorino however is able to provide quite a sexy spark as Charlie's girlfriend of a sort.
I also admired the fact that the film doesn't go for a cheap happy ending. Instead we get a bittersweet ending; the kind of ending that needs to happen. Raymond's autism means that he can't really have a character arc, he has to be the same at the end of the film as the start. We may be desperate for him to acknowledge Charlie in some kind of way; we want him to give him a hug, we want him to wave from the window, hell we just want him to look up from his beloved TV shows long enough to glance at Charlie. But he doesn't. And that's the right way to end the film.
I was also surprised by just how funny I found the film to be. Thankfully it doesn't really try to mine any humour at the expense of Raymond and his condition. The laughs come from just the things that Raymond says which are just naturally funny, but for the most part it comes from Charlie's incredible frustration at Raymond's behaviour. Speaking of Charlie's frustration, one other thing the film really did was make me appreciate even more the incredible efforts and sacrifices people have to make in terms of having contact with people like Raymond. So the patience that families have for people with mental difficulties must be incredible. And as for people who choose to dedicate their lives to working with people like Raymond what an amazing decision to make.
A couple of other things just quickly. As it plays out as a classic road movie for most of the time Levinson is able to capture some beautiful scenery as the characters cross America. And I loved Hans Zimmer's rather quirky score. Oh and the film also attempts to find an answer to that question that has eternally puzzled mankind - Who exactly is on first base?
Conclusion This is a phenomenally well acted film about a potentially dangerous subject that is able to avoid the numerous pitfalls it could have fallen into and emerges as a funny, touching and occasionally heartbreaking piece of drama. I just wish I hadn't waited so long to see it. And if anyone else is like me and is putting off watching it, I would tell you to wait no more.