March 25, 2007

Movie Review: Reign Over Me

What an absolutely draining experience. As I left the theater, I felt so emotionally spent that I just stood in the theater lobby, no speaking, not thinking, just standing there. I wasn't quite prepared for the ringer the Reign Over Me put me through. This is not to say it is a perfect film, it has its flaws, but it creates this vivid portrait of two men going through turning points in their lives, and helping each other find what it is they are looking for. The movie also gives us an Adam Sandler that I have never seen before. In short, this is a surprisingly moving, well acted film that is well worth your time.

I have not seen that many films that deal with 9/11. Last year I saw both United 93 and World Trade Center, both were excellent films in different ways. The former took the role of a fly on the wall of the United Airlines flight that went down in Pennsylvania, a moving and difficult to watch film, the latter aimed to restore faith in humanity, focusing on two of the survivors that were found trapped in the collapsed towers. What does this have to do with Reign Over Me? Well, it shows my experience with 9/11 films. To my memory, this is the first entirely fictional film to deal somewhat directly with the event.

The film starts out by introducing us to Allan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful dentist, with a lovely family. He is feeling severly overwhelmed with the balance of his family and professional responsibilities, resulting in him leading a rather repressed life. One day, on his way home from work, he spies his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). He fails to get his attention, but the sighting has lit something that was long missing inside of him. The next time Allan sees Charlie, he does get ahold of him, and a friendship is rekindled. It is an awkward friendship to start, you see, Charlie is in a very dark place cut off from most semblance of reality.

Charlie lost his family on 9/11. His wife, three daughters, and the family dog were all on one of the planes. This event has destroyed Charlie's world. He has withdrawn from society, unable to cope with the loss he has buried himself in video games, music, and kitchen remodeling. His renewed friendship with his old college bud begins to bring him back out of his funk.

The film was written and directed by Mike Binder. The story unfolds in a natural way, nothing is forced, and everything is given its due time. Reign Over Me is slowly paced, allowing Fineman's story and Johnson's sub-story be told over a period of time that is not rushed, but never boring. I found myself drawn into "Charlie-world," as Allan describes it to his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith). It is a story that is involving, sad, and ultimately uplifting.

Carrying the film are the impressive performances of Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. Don Cheadle has really become a wonderful actor, especially in his Oscar nominated performance in Hotel Rwanda. Here, he is understated giving us a character who seems to have built up a shell around himself rather than seek to improve his repressed life. We slowly see that shell chipped away the more he spends time with Charlie. Now, Adam Sandler gives us the next step in the evolution of his action. He has previously shown some unseen depth in the likes of Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish, this is the next stage. He has given us a character that is withdrawn, sullen, and prone to bizarre moodswings, all of which he moves through capably. This is a Sandler that has not been seen before, and I was captivated by his performance, it felt raw and genuine, I believed in the pain that he was feeling, the reasons why he was so shut off. Wonderful performance. There are also fine performances amongst the supporting cast, although none are developed terribly deeply. Those performances include Liv Tyler as a young psychiatrist and Donald Sutherland as a compassionate judge.

Bottomline. I was taken on a draining journey through loss and rebirth. It struck me deeply. It is a story that seems designed to target the emotional response, yet while manipulkative elements are there, I do not feel as if I was. The pacing may not be perfect, but there is a very natural flow to the dialog and the development. This is a strong film that deserves to be seen.

Highly Recommended.


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