Directed by Mike Binder, Drama, Rated R for language and some sexual references, 124 min.
If you have seen any of the TV spots for this film, you may have noticed Don Cheadle’s line concerning September 11th. Do not be mistaken, this story is not exploiting 9/11 to make an Adam Sandler dramatic vehicle more serious. In fact, in the movie itself, the words “nine-eleven” are never used.
Reign Over Me begins by introducing Alan Johnson (played by the always great Don Cheadle), a successful dentist who has secured a wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and family. The only conflict seems to be the new woman patient (Saffron Burrows) who insists that she can see Alan’s hidden pain and tempts him with infidelity.
Alan spots Charlie Fineman (Sandler) speeding through the New York streets on his segway. Charlie was Alan’s roommate when they were studying dentistry together, except Charlie doesn’t seem to remember this. Alan sets off befriending him again and is careful to tiptoe around the topic of Charlie’s family, who were killed in the plane crash.
As the story unfolds, the film peels through the layers of Charlie Fineman’s shield that he has wrapped around himself. Sometimes the results make us uncomfortable, and sometimes Charlie has violent reactions when confronted with his past. Sandler’s performance makes Charlie warm, sad, and frightening. This can be considered Adam Sandler’s second lead as a dramatic actor, after Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Both performances succeed because Sandler places a weak and worn exterior over the darker back story that we sometimes catch glimpses of through his eyes.
Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger) wrote and directed Reign Over Me with heavy placement on character as opposed to an event-driven story. The movie does reach a courtroom third-act climax, but the majority of its pleasures derive from learning about the characters and seeing if change is possible. Binder sprinkles his otherwise heavy story with many funny moments and exchanges between the two lead actors.
Cheadle’s character is eventually lead to a moral dilemma concerning his involvement with Charlie Fineman. Should he help his friend exorcise past demons or would shattering Charlie’s safety bubble also shatter his sanity even further? A grown man living vicariously through video games and his record collection may seem unhealthy, but how close to the edge has Charlie been this whole time?
Reign Over Me is a movie that works because of the talent of everyone involved as well the strength of the characters. It is a wonderful drama and one of the better movies of 2007 so far.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5