I can’t really call this a revisit as this was first watch before I was watching films to in the volume I do now, so Rain Man (1988) sadly doesn’t count. I decided to revisit this film purely on a comment made during Mad City (1997). I vaguely remembered the earlier film, all that I did was that Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman were brothers. An idea I initially thought was in-plausible on the face of it. It took another look to see what the film was really about beyond this relationship.
Well its all about the relationship really between these estranged brothers. It’s the themes explored about them that make this a rewarding film. One that would hopefully not get remade, and sadly would not get green-lit today in Hollywood unless it was an indie film. I fear today that the theme of Autism would be mocked, turning it into a comedy which is just inappropriate. The inclusion and depiction of people with disabilities has improved in the last decade, however a film is a rare and brave move. What made it work was the spell-binding and Oscar-winning performance by Hoffman who submerges into this man Raymond Babbit who merely looks and sounds like him. What he portrays is a man who is lost and controlled by his disability, with sensitivity and acute attention to detail. One of a long line if actors who has snapped up the golden statue for taking such a deep plunge, taking a bigger risk paid off for him and the audience who believe him completely.
Paired opposite a young Tom Cruise as the yuppie Charlie Babbit basically playing Tom Cruise as we knew him in the 1980’s. Under financial pressure, his care business is struggling, one of a number who are suffering after the crash of the decade. Still living the high life of the successful young business man. He even has the foreign girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) who gets too little time in the film. Which allows a different kind of road trip travel from Missouri to Los Angeles. Beginning as a kidnapping when Charlie is all but snubbed in his fathers will. Looking for the trustee of the $3 million dollars that can be found at the Walbrook Institute where we find Raymond trapped in his own autistic world of routine, obsessions and repetition, this is the man whose meant to have the fortune, what could he possibly want or do with it? That’s what Charlie’s thinking on meeting this man.
As much as he believes his fight is with his defenceless brother, its more intricate than that. He’s got the 1949 car he stole when he was younger. The inheritance and natural born right’s written away. He’s young, angry, grieving and has money troubles, his brother’s just adding to that pile. OK so now take out the autism element then you have a film that is not half as interesting or complex. Taking his brother for a drive, they leave with Susanna to start a legal fight half way across the country.
The Autism is that stands between Charlie, the money which is just the initial motivation that brings these brothers together. Anyone who knows anyone with autism its a daily battle to communicate with someone who is trying to articulate themselves, trapped by any number of physical and mental stumbling blocks. I admire those who are carers, parents and relatives of Autistic people, it by no means an easy life, rewarding at times and that’s reflected in the middle two acts of the film as we see these two very different men start to form a relationship, is it one of brothers are one of carer and patient, maybe even both. What starts as being a burden to Charlie becomes a need as he learns about his past.
When they arrive in Las Vegas, the city of temptation, a moment of weakness that see Charlie who abuses his brothers acute mathematical thinking to count in the Casino. It’s not as Raymond can really consent to this, instead is a perverse coercion that occurs between the able and disabled that does work to a point. Those scenes are thankfully only a few and soon met with guilt and sensitivity, Charlie is growing up as a brother and as a man. Only he can really grow out of both these characters, one who can despise and shame at times, whilst the others we try to understand and care for. The autism brings out the best in Charlie who was before self-centred, now becoming a new improved version of himself, open, sensitive and empathetic to others, especially his brother who he sees as just that first, not the condition that afflicts him.
I think is holding back the tears the first time I watched Rain Man, now with a sense of wonder at the performances and their power. Mostly Hoffman who gave the film it’s tone. Cruise is actually in good form, even as the young attractive actor of the film, paired against the veteran who can act his socks off in-front of him. Of course there’s a few better performances in the go to action guy of the 1990s and last decade who just wont show his age. An image of forever youthfulness, the epitome of Hollywood ideology, the image of eternal youth. Rain Man is not just about these brothers and autism which you can’t hide from, its the 1980’s forgetting the little people who are trampled on, sidelined, whilst the rich and successful keep on making money. Behind the success is where find the humanity and true cost of it all.
Video looking at Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Magnolia (1999) focusing on the Frank Mackey interview,manipulated to make Mackey (Tom Cruise) appear more awkward as interviewer Gwenovier (April Grace) opens up old wounds surrounding his family history.
A film I watched purely on recommendation, not really a fan of Tom Cruise, however when it mentioned the U.S. civil war I decided to take a closer look at The Last Samurai (2003) to see what was really going on. And I wasn’t let down, even though it’s not technically a western it does have all the clever hallmarks of being a revisionist Western, cleverly reworked to look at the decline and fall of the Samurai warrior. A reflection of the Native American across the Pacific, complete with out all knowing white other Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) a troubled man of the army who cannot reconcile his part in the forced relocation and massacre of the Native American people. Which we see in the form of ever more graphic flash-backs which could relate to any massacre before 1876 when we find him now a drunk helping to sell the Winchester rifle. He’s not happy in his work, used as a heroic figure who used a rifle in the Civil War.
He’s offered the chance of a better life back in the uniform in a training role in Japan. By this time relations with the once isolationist country have warmed up. The country has become westernised, adopting the fashions, technology and even weapons. We have come a long way since the time of The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) when relations are just being started between the two very different countries. One rooted in tradition and the past and another in asserting their dominance in the world (nothings changed there then). Now in the late 1800’s we are more in line with Unforgiven/Yurusarezaru mono (2013) when the Samurai is a seen as a dying breed, a reflection of the American gunfighter. The Last Samurai raises their status to another race that has become a relic, deeply rooted in the past, yet also very much part of the countries heritage. Once noble men at the disposal of the Emperor, who now wants them tamed if not eradicated. All part of the westernisation of the country.
Algren’s position is one of modern cinema with a conscience, looking back over the historical depiction of his own country reflected in another. He will train the Japanese army to fight the Samurai but not willingly, more out of a sense of duty and the money’s pretty good too. You’d think that guns would be a far better match for the sword wielding samurai who we meet in a gruesome batter that alters the course of the film dramatically. After killing of a fair few men Algren is taken back to the samurai village out of respect for his ability in battle. You can see some similarities between him and Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) who is adopted/assimilated into the culture. The journey is not straight forward, it’s not a case of understanding just the culture, its a whole different mind-set. He can fight, he has the potential to be great, held back by his mind-set, not able to focus his thoughts. Whereas Dunbar is more open to what is around him, not coming with the “I’m living with savages” mindset which takes a while to wear off.
The Samurai are not depicted as savages, cinema has been more kind and even respectful to them. We hold them in awe of their skill, part of the countries culture and heritage. The genre is has strong links with the western, both drawing on each other before the release of this film. This is not Dances with Wolves (1990) in Japan, there is a sweeping feel to the movie, we are seeing the end of an era in a country through the eyes of an American which is standard for Hollywood. Which allows the audience to connect with another culture, which this time was more open to the white-man’s presence, the other was becoming a double-other (film theory talk) in order to work together. Both Algren and Dunbar are/were soldiers of the U.S. army who have come to dislike its recent campaign history. One wanting to see the West before it’s tamed and another horrified by that process. Openly criticising General Custer and his last campaign, saying he was living up to his legend. It’s as if the past has grown a deeper conscience through the guise of Japanese culture, however historically correct is another matter.
With the warrior transformation underway we see him assimilate into their culture, learning the language. Algren never gives up, determined to prove himself to these people who are almost like gods, giving their skill, honour and duty to the emperor who has turned his back on them. They are now fighting for survival, something which Algren feels the Native Americans had but were greatly outnumbered and outgunned. The same is happening here, but not without a fight all provided courtesy of cinema. And boy do we get a glorious battle even though it may never have really happened it’s all part of Hollywood and the genres attempt to rewrite history. It allows Cruise to act more than just rely on his stunts which he insists on doing. There is also little time for romance which would be very out-of place in this film. It’s thankfully held back to move the film forward. We also have Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto the leader of the Samurai and advisor to the Emperor. Watanabe has become the go-to Japanese guy for these heavier roles, bringing with him a more honest portrayal, not just someone in make-up or slightly Japanese. It’s a solid block-buster that if you go deep enough find more than just a historical action film, you get a western, always an extra treat for me.
- Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003) (tokyofox.wordpress.com)