The Rain People Reviews

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Super Reviewer
February 20, 2008
In the John Huston tradition of losers who take the road to find themsemelves, getting in contact with people with more and deeper needs to their pathetic and meaningless existence. Coppola's first mature plunge in filmmaking hits the right chords. He's both sensitive and crude, when needed for the sake of such a heartbreaking story.
Super Reviewer
October 16, 2009
"Rebels on the road" films were all the rage in the late '60s, but "The Rain People" adds a twist: The rebel is somebody's wife, and she's driving a station wagon.

Shirley Knight is newly pregnant, and panicking about the responsibilities of settling down. She has so little sense of identity that she often talks about herself in the third person. While her husband is still asleep, she sneaks away with no clear destination in mind. Soon she picks up a hitchhiker with the ironic nickname "Killer" (James Caan, shorn of his trademark curls). Caan is a former college football star who suffered a career-ending head injury during a game. After some time in a menial job on campus, he left school. He has the vacant demeanor of someone with brain damage (he doesn't even remember how to play "Simon Says"), and others casually mislead and take advantage of him.

Knight picks him up, not realizing how alone and helpless he is. He proves harder to unload than expected, partly due to circumstance and partly due to her sympathy. Multiple efforts to secure him a niche fail (the most vivid sequence involves a sleazy poultry farmer whose overstuffed coop might not be allowed on film today), and Caan continues as her sidekick on a trip to nowhere. In the final act, she encounters a small-town highway cop (Robert Duvall) who becomes crucial to the film's climax.

Francis Ford Coppola's direction is solid, but does not mark him as a future giant. Realizing his story is minimal, he is content with a slow pace, lingering on driving footage and incidental behavior. The first four minutes don't even contain dialogue. His boldest choice is inserting various flashback fragments to fill in details from the characters' past lives -- this device works quite well, in a French New Wave mode. Meanwhile, all three central performances are striking. Caan's work is particularly impressive, given that he's limited to such a small emotional range in a role which easily could turn farcical.

Naturally, the presence of the young Coppola, Caan and Duvall is the most pressing reason to see this minor film (and of course, all three worked on "The Godfather" three years later). Another interesting tidbit is that George Lucas is credited as a "production associate," and in fact made a short documentary called "Filmmaker" about the shoot.

My own favorite touch: the roadside stop with a large sign boasting "FREE PICNIC TABLES."
Super Reviewer
August 31, 2010
A languid, gently beautiful film that provides a lot of unique insight into over-explored themes. Coppola does fantastic things with cinematography and editing.
March 25, 2014
After the lukewarm response to Coppola's first big budget feature ("Finian's Rainbow"), Coppola attempted to go smaller again with this more indie feature about a woman who leaves her husband after discovering she is pregnant, and while traveling meets a former college football layer with brain damage, and a widower highway patrolman...and nothing good seems to come from her trip to get away. It is a sad little movie, but fans of the New Hollywood era may enjoy this character study from Francis Ford Coppola, if not just to see what the man directed before his next feature film, the all-time classic "The Godfather".
August 1, 2013
No lugar do road movie dramático, que se antecipou a toda uma década de 70 apaixonada pelo género, "The Rain People" será provavelmente o filme mais crucial para perceber que a sensibilidade de Coppola colocou-o muitas vezes uns quantos passos à frente dos restantes realizadores da sua geração (Scorsese, De Palma, Friedkin, Spielberg). Só um autor com o tacto muito apurado conseguiria envolver-se num drama tão profundo como "The Rain People" e, mesmo assim, esquivar-se de todas as armadilhas lamechas em que esse arriscava meter o pé. Não existe uma cena demasiado longa. Não há um personagem que esteja em excesso. Tudo isto é geometria dramática pela mão de quem a sabe explorar como um mestre (ao nível de Kurosawa ou De Sica). Os documentos dizem que o filme foi bastante incompreendido na sua estreia e primeiros anos, mas hoje há que lhe reconhecer uma importância esmagadora na formação de um código para o road movie que descreve algum processo emocional de quem pega no volante. "Five Easy Pieces" (1970), "Badlands" (1973) e "Paris, Texas" (1984): todos surgiram depois e todos lhe devem alguma coisa, mesmo que a reputação de "The Rain People" seja muito mais modesta que a de qualquer um dos três.
May 30, 2013
I didn't want to run away with you. I wanted to run away from you.

Natalie is in an unhappy marriage and recently discovers that she is pregnant. She decides to runaway and try to find herself. She feels that once she finds herself she'll know whether to keep the baby and continue the marriage or have an abortion and start life over. As she drives, she encounters a mentally retarded young man that she can't seem to get rid of. The young man will change her life forever.

"Go to hell. At least I know you'll be taken care of there."

Francis Ford Coppola, director of The God Father trilogy, Apocalypse Now, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jack, The Rainmaker, Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, and Dementia 13, delivers The Rain People. The storyline for this picture is very well written and contains awesome characters. The acting is brilliant and the cast includes James Caan, Robert Duvall, Shirley Knight, and Tom Aldredge.

"Bitch, how many times do I have to tell you to stop talking like a little tramp?"

I DVR'd this picture off Turner Classic Movies (TCM) during a recent Robert Duvall marathon. I watched this picture first due to it being directed by the infamous Coppola. I will say this film is a masterpiece and truly underrated. Caan and Duvall are awesome and Knight delivers a classic lead character. I strongly recommend seeing this picture and potentially adding it to your DVD collection.

"Where would a dumb dumb like that get a thousand dollars?"

Grade: A
December 29, 2011
A very good small film with excellent performances by Shirley Knight, James Caan and, most memorably in a small role, Robert Duvall. I was on the faculty with his brother Augie at CSULB when this was released. Augie got a copy and showed it to a strongly favorable reception. Now it is not even listed on Netflix as among his films he has directed even though they list other films of his not available. Too bad. I think it would find an audience if it were more easily available.
Super Reviewer
October 16, 2009
"Rebels on the road" films were all the rage in the late '60s, but "The Rain People" adds a twist: The rebel is somebody's wife, and she's driving a station wagon.

Shirley Knight is newly pregnant, and panicking about the responsibilities of settling down. She has so little sense of identity that she often talks about herself in the third person. While her husband is still asleep, she sneaks away with no clear destination in mind. Soon she picks up a hitchhiker with the ironic nickname "Killer" (James Caan, shorn of his trademark curls). Caan is a former college football star who suffered a career-ending head injury during a game. After some time in a menial job on campus, he left school. He has the vacant demeanor of someone with brain damage (he doesn't even remember how to play "Simon Says"), and others casually mislead and take advantage of him.

Knight picks him up, not realizing how alone and helpless he is. He proves harder to unload than expected, partly due to circumstance and partly due to her sympathy. Multiple efforts to secure him a niche fail (the most vivid sequence involves a sleazy poultry farmer whose overstuffed coop might not be allowed on film today), and Caan continues as her sidekick on a trip to nowhere. In the final act, she encounters a small-town highway cop (Robert Duvall) who becomes crucial to the film's climax.

Francis Ford Coppola's direction is solid, but does not mark him as a future giant. Realizing his story is minimal, he is content with a slow pace, lingering on driving footage and incidental behavior. The first four minutes don't even contain dialogue. His boldest choice is inserting various flashback fragments to fill in details from the characters' past lives -- this device works quite well, in a French New Wave mode. Meanwhile, all three central performances are striking. Caan's work is particularly impressive, given that he's limited to such a small emotional range in a role which easily could turn farcical.

Naturally, the presence of the young Coppola, Caan and Duvall is the most pressing reason to see this minor film (and of course, all three worked on "The Godfather" three years later). Another interesting tidbit is that George Lucas is credited as a "production associate," and in fact made a short documentary called "Filmmaker" about the shoot.

My own favorite touch: the roadside stop with a large sign boasting "FREE PICNIC TABLES."
½ December 22, 2010
(*** 1/2): Thumbs Up

Interesting and well-acted.
½ September 8, 2009
A common movie about common people who have nowhere to go, and the movie goes nowhere. Surprising that it has a European ending.
½ May 2, 2009
SCREENED AT THE 52ND SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Pre-[i]Godfather[/i] but post-[i]Finian?s Rainbow[/i], Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed [i]The Rain People[/i], a downbeat character drama Coppola produced with the help of his friends, including George Lucas, and his family (his wife Eleanor drove a truck during production). After [i]Finian?s Rainbow[/i], a box office and critical failure soured Hollywood on Coppola, if only temporarily (the [i]Godfather[/i] gig arrived two years later), Coppola wanted to make a personal film and turned to a screenplay he wrote in his early thirties. Admirable more for its place in Coppola?s oeuvre and for the guerilla filmmaking techniques Coppola used, [i]The Rain People[/i] is, at best, an admirable failure, a necessary step in the evolution of Coppola as a world-class filmmaker.

[i]The Rain People[/i] centers on Natalie Ravenna (Shirley Knight), a pregnant Long Island housewife who flees her marriage to Vinny (Robert Modica) for parts unknown, and Jimmy Kilgannon (James Caan), a brain-damaged, ex-football player Natalie picks up on the side of the road. Natalie seems to crave adventure, maybe even a romantic fling with Jimmy, but once she notices Jimmy?s mental and emotional deficits, Natalie finds herself in a position she didn't want: responsibility for Jimmy. Jimmy claims, however, that he has a job waiting for him in West Virginia with Artie (Andrew Duncan), the father of his ex-girlfriend, Ellen (Laura Crews).

When, unsurprisingly, the trip to West Virginia fails, Natalie is left looking after Jimmy. In occasional phone calls to Vinny, Natalie tries to justify her actions. Her life of quiet desperation as a housewife, the responsibilities as a housewife and mother, the lack of independence, all play a role in Natalie?s justifications. After another attempt to find a job for Jimmy in Nebraska, Natalie meets Gordon (Robert Duvall), a highway policeman, who seems to offer Natalie what she wants: temporary escape from an unhappy future as a mother, housewife, and Jimmy?s reluctant caretaker.

In everything from the elliptical narrative style (including the obligatory flashbacks), to the pared-down visuals and on-location shooting, European art cinema (specifically the French New Wave) influenced Coppola?s writing and directing of [i]The Rain People[/i]. In Natalie, the desperate housewife leading a quiet life of desperation, Coppola created a character that could have stepped out of a French New Wave film or Michelangelo Antonioni?s films ([i]The Passenger[/i], [i]Blow-Up[/i], [i]Red Desert[/i], [i]The Eclipse[/i]). Coppola drew his inspiration for Jimmy closer to home: the Lenny character from John Steinback?s classic novella, [i]Of Mice and Men[/i]. The dynamic between Natalie and Jimmy also draws its inspiration from [i]Of Mice and Men[/i]. Jimmy also exhibits a fondness for animals (again, like Lenny) and the narrative leads to a similar dénouement for both Jimmy and Natalie.

Influences or inspiration aside, [i]The Rain People[/i] is, to be blunt, a flawed film. Coppola over-relies on coincidence and contrivance multiple times, including, most egregiously, the final scene. The final scene neither cathartic in the classic (emotional) sense nor earned, more an ending because [i]The Rain People[/i] needed one. Coppola?s use of music, deft in almost every other film, abandons him here. His reliance on a classically inspired song, rather than pop or rock tunes or even nothing at all, undermines [i]The Rain People[/i] at key moments. Coppola should have trusted his instincts and merely used ambient sound (as he does most of the time).

Still, [i]The Rain People[/i] has its strengths, due largely to James Caan?s understated performance as Jimmy and Shirley Knight?s pitch-perfect performance as Natalie. Caan never oversells through overdone mannerisms or speech patterns and Knight keeps the histrionics usually associated with a ?woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown? role in check. Duvall does what he can with an underwritten role, but his character?s emotional 180?s are rarely convincing. Ultimately, [i]The Rain People[/i] is less interesting, let alone compelling, on its own than as part of Coppola?s varied oeuvre, an oeuvre defined by risks, rewards, successes, and on occasion, failure.
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