(director/writer: Barry Levinson; screenwriters: Ronald Bass/Barry Morrow/story by Mr. Morrow; cinematographer: John Seale; editor: Stu Linder; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Dustin Hoffman (Raymond Babbitt), Tom Cruise (Charlie Babbitt), Valeria Golino (Susanna), Jerry Molen (Dr. Bruner), Jack Murdock (John Mooney), Michael D. Roberts (Vern), Ralph Seymour (Lenny), Barry Levinson (Psychiatrist), Lucinda Jenney (Iris); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Mark Johnson; United Artists; 1988)

“Delivers plenty of droll humor.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the 80’s most popular films. The cleverly directed family drama by Barry Levinson (“Diner”/”Wag The Dog”/”Liberty Heights”) won an Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Ronald Bass & Barry Morrow) and Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman). The script by Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow might be slight, but it’s diverting and was oddly funny and never dipped into banal territory.

Self-absorbed, fast-talking twentysomething hustler Los Angeles automobile salesman Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) learns from the family lawyer at his estranged father’s funeral in his hometown of Cincinnati that his dad left him his prize roses and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster and to an unidentified party he left in a trust fund his $3 million estate. Charlie travels in the inherited Buick with his warmhearted workplace longtime suffering girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino, Italian actress) to meet the trustee, Dr. Bruner (Jerry Molen), of the esteemed Wallbrook-a private mental hospital rest home. Charlie then discovers he has an older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic-savant (idiot savant), a brother no one ever told him about who has been institutionalized here as a resident for more than twenty years and is the party who inherited the entire estate.

Charlie needs money fast, as he’s in the middle of a shady car deal that if it goes under means that his business will fold. He thereby abducts the helpless and grouchy Raymond in order to force the trustee to give him half the inheritance to avoid a custody fight. When Raymond has a temper tantrum over flying, Charlie drives instead cross-country to Los Angeles. When Raymond refuses to ride on a major highway, Charlie appeases him by taking the safer back roads. Raymond is emotionally unreachable but Charlie warms up to him and attempts to get to know his innocent brother. In New Mexico, Charlie learns by phone that he lost $80,000 in the bum car deal and needs cash pronto to save his failing automobile business. Impressed with his brother’s amazing skill in memorizing numbers and almost anything he comes into contact with, Charlie gets Raymond to count cards for him in a Las Vegas casino and he wins the money needed to rescue his car business. In the meantime, Charlie finds he’s been transformed by his vulnerable brother and finds a sense of decency as he reaches out to him in a loving way before returning him to the care of the professionals at Wallbrook.

It might sound like a bummer but surprisingly everything about this coming-of-age/buddy/road film is agreeable, as it delivers plenty of droll humor and thanks to Hoffman’s restrained and finely studied performance his character never becomes implausible.

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