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I saw Rain Man at the weekend. It popped up on my TV and, before I knew it, I was gripped by a film I had not seen in 30 years and could not switch it off. Tom Cruise is left peanuts by his recently deceased father and uncovers, to his initial shock and ultimate redemption, that he has an older brother who suffers from severe autism.
Dustin Hoffman won the best actor Oscar for playing Raymond, the autistic elder brother. And he gets all the best lines (“I’m an excellent driver”) and iconic moments, like counting toothpicks, in the movie. But watching it all those years later with a bit of age and distance from the original Oscar buzz, it is readily apparent it is Tom Cruise that makes this film tick.
The movie portrays Hoffman as a man who is severely constrained by his disorder. Cruise is the beating heart of the movie and the character we identify with and follow throughout the film. In every major scene where drama occurs it is the look on Cruise’s face, not the actions of Hoffman, that deliver the emotional punch of the film.
Hoffman gets the glory and the gongs. But Cruise makes the film work and proves himself in Rain Man to be not necessarily the better actor but certainly the more effective one.