One key thing to note about Barry Levinson: he loves casting Dustin Hoffman. In addition to Rain Man, he has cast Hoffman in films such as Wag the Dog, Sphere, and Sleepers.
As you can tell from that list there, Levinson has had a pretty diverse career, and one that includes hits and critical darlings… and, sure, some less than successful flicks as well.
He was also responsible for the hit TV show Homicide: Life on the Street, which was set and filmed in his hometown of Baltimore (and which was the precursor to the massively important show The Wire).
He seems to be all about probing into all kinds of different stories and lives, so it's not really a surprise that he latched onto a film project with some quirky brothers struggling with family drama and other challenges, right?
Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass are the dudes responsible for writing Rain Man. While directors tend to get a lot of the credit for a film's "vision," you've got to give up some kudos for the writers, too—and here, it was particularly important.
You see, Barry Morrow's meeting with real-life savant Kim Peek was the inspiration for the film's portrayal of Raymond, so you have to admit that Morrow must have had a pretty big impact on the movie, right?
Morrow apparently had a deep interest in the experiences of the differently-abled even before Rain Man, since he met Kim Peek while he was already attending a conference in Texas that was focused on individuals with disabilities (source).
Oh, and Rain Man wasn't the only film he wrote that focused n the topic of the differently-abled—he wrote a TV movie about a man named Bill Sackter, who spent forty-four years in a home for the mentally disabled. He and Bill Sackter were so close that Morrow even became his legal guardian (source). So, yeah, Morrow's screenwriting could get pretty personal, and he definitely had a special interest in the experiences of individuals living with special challenges.
Then we have Ronald Bass. His connection to the subject matter wasn't personal like Barry Morrow's, but his contribution? He's a total hit maker. He has been involved in tons of super buzzy and popular movies, such as Waiting to Exhale, The Joy Luck Club, My Best Friend's Wedding, Dangerous Minds... and the list doesn't stop there.
Rain Man wasn't exactly a blockbuster, but it definitely fits into that whole legacy of movies that are important with a capital I.
United Artists produced the film with The Guber-Peters Company, with assists from Star Partners II Ltd. and Mirage Entertainment.
United Artists is kind of like a studio chameleon—it keeps changing as the times change, which makes it kind of hard to talk about a particular "brand" for its films. It was, however, founded by directors and actors (hello, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffiths, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford), which is kinda cool. Its turbulent history includes releasing the James bond films and other big-deal movies. Oh, and Tom Cruise had a hand in trying to restart it after it had fallen on hard times (source).
That said, United has been around forever, and it remains associated with MGM (one of the true lions of the old classical film studios), so it's fair to say it's still kinda sorta connected with that legacy and "classical" tradition of, you know, making hit movies (comedies, dramas… you name it).
Rain Man certainly isn't filmed from any one character's "perspective"—which is why we used the word "objective." We see Charlie from all angles and in interactions with lots of different people, and we also get to follow Ray around in his private moments (and when he wanders away from Charlie).
However, we added an "ish" because the camera is more grafted to Charlie than any other character. Charlie is the first dude that we meet, and the last one we see—and it's his personal journey toward non-crummy behavior that the film largely follows.
This is his story, and the fact that the film begins and ends with the camera focused squarely on his experiences definitely attests to that "focus" (pardon the filmy pun—sometimes we can't help ourselves).
To be honest, the Rain Man score is kind of an odd fit with the film's setting and subject matter. First off, the film opens with the song "Iko Iko," whose lyrics no one really understands —but bottom line, it's basically a Mardis Gras party song. It's fun, but since the film's many settings don't include New Orleans (or Ghana, where it may have actually originated), we're not totally sure how it fits…
But hey, maybe it's just trying to set up a fun, decadent, and celebratory tone as Charlie gets his Lamborghinis cabled off a ship for him? Of course, he quickly finds out he can't sell those cars…
As far as the rest of the soundtrack goes, it's largely a mix of '80s-style music like Bananarama's "Nathan Jones" and Johnny Clegg/Savuka's "Scatterlings of Africa," more old fashioned hits like Etta James's "At Last," and some original compositions by Hans Zimmer.
And no, we're not talking the thundering, dirge-y Inception- or Interstellar-style Hans Zimmer (which pretty much sounds like an orchestra alternately attacking and falling asleep on their instruments). Zimmer's score here is super mellow, mixing panpipes (a lot of that—consider yourself warned), some 80's style-synth, and some very gentle drums (think: bongos). Like the opening song, the soundtrack does seem to have a bit of African influence.
Overall, though, the low-key soundtrack more or less fits with the film's less flashy, more understated drama. After all, it's a story of tension between two brothers, so the blaring arrangements Zimmer might use for something like Inception wouldn't exactly fit, right?