Raising Cain is a tour de force by John Lithgow. I always knew the man was something special when it came to play deranged psychopaths. His turn as Burke in Blow Out was especially sensational, embodying the unemotional coldness that you would imagine a sociopath would have. Here he takes on five different roles, making each just as incredible as any other role he’s taken on.
Raising Cain is about Carter, a child psychologist who murders women in order to abscond with their children in an attempt to study their personality development. It quickly becomes clear that Carter’s personality development was anything but normal. Carter is a victim of a multiple personality complex. One minute he’s Carter, the next he’s Cain. Carter is a genuine fatherly figure who is dedicated to his work whereas Cain is a streetwise tough talking goon. The two characters are as far apart as they can possibly be from each other and Lithgow embodies both phenomenally.
Unfortunately the plot doesn’t really thicken beyond this initial premise. There are your suspenseful sequences common to just about any De Palma thriller, but really its Lithgow’s performance that makes the film stand out. In one scene he takes on the personality of a seven year old boy, and his facial expression and body language are stunningly accurate to how any little boy might act. The nervousness and twitchy eye movements are incredible and its a wonder what kind of mindset Ltihgow had to be in to nail this role the way he did. I’d have to imagine James McCavoy took a lot of inspiration from Lithgow’s performance when taking on a similar role in the recent film Split.
It’s unfortunate that the plot never seems to go anywhere. We are given multiple overly expository scenes that explain the full details of Carter’s particular condition which may have been necessary when the film came out, but seeing as this sort of thing has been the subject of a myriad of movies since then it feels unnecessary.
De Palma’s in full form with this type of material and he makes excellent use of his trademark stylistic flourishes to inject the proper sense of lunacy into the film. There are many instances where De Palma makes use of a dutch angle shot, evoking well the queasy uneasiness of Carter’s shattered mind. Also included are well directed suspense sequences so well known to anyone familiar with De Palmas work. This includes the climactic end scene taking place over three levels of a hotel catwalk. Proper use of slow motion and excellent set up make you feel like you’re there with the characters witnessing this traumatic event.
During one of the long expository sequences De Palma has the characters wander about a police station. The two cops follow the woman explaining the entire plot to the audience and the camera follows along beautifully in one five minute long take. This even includes them going down a flight of stairs as the camera rotates into a dutch angle while she mentions the traumatic events that cause Cain’s initial split. I can’t help but think this is De Palma sort of poking fun at these kinds of expository scenes, and having the psychologist almost wander away multiple times during the take can symbolize the audience’s wandering patience with the exposition. It’s quite brilliant.
So, like always, De Palma turns out a well directed if slightly underwritten movie. The film could’ve used a bit more in the way of plotting or a few extra twists or turns. As it is there aren’t many real surprises which comes as a bit of a disappointment in a movie about something as demented and disturbing as multiple personality disorder. Lithgow’s incredible performance is enough to entertain any viewer however. All in all its a good entry into De Palma’s filmography and I applaud him for trying a thriller with a more psychological/horror element to it for once.