I have seen very little of Levinson’s catalog, and I may have seen his best three movies. Other than using Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, he seems to like larger-than-life characters and really exploring how they respond to adversity and triumph. I suppose that could be applied to nearly every story, but these movies really make sure you know that the heroes are fallible and not everything has a storybook ending, while also making you feel good about the heroes when it’s over. It could also just be a common theme among these three movies and he could be a hack otherwise for all I know. If you’ve seen anything else he’s done, please illuminate me.
The Natural: An epic feel-good baseball movie starring the always charming Redford, The Natural basks in its button-pushing ways. Die-hard baseball fans will cringe on occasion (the walk-off homer in the top of the ninth comes to mind), but the excellent acting allows me to forgive those errors and the occasional schmaltz.
Good Morning, Vietnam: I don’t quite feel all that comfortable about the movie as a whole, but I like so many individual aspects of it that I still enjoy it today. Robin Williams plays a real-life human in Adrian Kronauer, but sadly he just plays Robin Williams. Some of his ad-libbed jokes are still funny, many are dated and obnoxious. And after a while he just comes off as a insubordinate, whiny jackass. But the dramatic moments in the movie are very powerful, and Williams’ character is knocked down a couple of pegs by the end, leaving us with a realistic and bittersweet finale. The soundtrack is amazing and the supporting cast is also good, though Kronauer’s superiors are a little too cartoonish in their dickishness.
Rain Man: I’ll get out of the way that Dustin Hoffman winning best actor really annoys me. While his portrayal of an autistic savant is pitch perfect, it had to be one of the easiest performances of his career. He literally had to show no emotion, most of the time. Tom Cruise had a significantly more complicated role, playing the brother who has to process his own emotions of dealing with an autistic brother (and one he didn’t know he had). That’s not to say Cruise is a better actor, but I’m more intrigued by his performance, one of the best of his career. It’s not perfect; Cruise is not a master at subtlety, but Levinson gets the most of him and I still believed his anguish.
It’s an occasionally funny story that does a little bit to bring to light the lack of public awareness and available resources for those with autism. Granted, autistic savants are extremely rare, but the late Kim Peek (the person Raymond Babbitt is based on) still suffered from many of the same social and daily living problems that those who are not savants suffer from. The movie treats the problem fairly honestly, and the ending is poignant and subdued.
A Partial List of Other Barry Levinson Movies You May Have Seen
Wag the Dog
Man of the Year