Reign Over Me Review
By Joe Lozito
Despite how it's being advertised, "Reign Over Me", Mike Binder's rumination on grief and loss, is not a "9/11 movie". There is only what you might call a "light dusting" of references to the tragic events of that day, and though the film takes place in New York City, there are no longing studies of the famously fractured skyline or of Ground Zero. Charlie, the film's alarmingly repressed protagonist, is referred to as the one "whose family was on the plane". There are also allusions to people coming from "halfway around the world." And though September 11th itself is never mentioned, September 12th is. So it's clear what we're dealing with here. Charlie (Adam Sandler) was a promising young dentist and family man until he lost his family that day. Charlie's parents died when he was a child so his only remnants of family are a set of in-laws too wrapped up in their own loss to recognize Charlie's right to grieve. And with the deck stacked so heroically against him - his wife, three daughters and their poodle
were on the plane - it's clear Mr. Binder is earnestly, if a bit crudely, playing for keeps.
It's a well-worn irony that it's all too easy to be alone in a city as populated New York, and "Reign Over Me" taps into that truism, painting Charlie as a lone, headphoned figure floating ethereally on his scooter through the anonymous city streets. One day, in classic Manhattan happenstance, Charlie bumps into his old college roommate Alan (Don Cheadle). Both men were once on track to becoming dentists and Alan, who now has a successful practice, is struck by Charlie detachment.
As he's proven again and again, Don Cheadle is one of our finest actors and though Charlie's the one we're supposed to root for, Alan gets our attention. His Dr. Johnson has the type of perfect movie-family that typically fills the background of a story like this one (Jada Pinkett Smith is solid, if underused, as loving wife Janeane) and provides fodder for films like Chris Rock's recent "I Think I Love My Wife". Though he should be happy, Alan feels empty. And so Charlie and Alan fill a believable if convenient void in each other's lives as Alan takes it upon himself to make Charlie "better".
The phrase "post-traumatic stress disorder" is bandied about in the film (Liv Tyler also turns in some mature work as a young therapist), but that doesn't appear to be Charlie's affliction. Charlie's condition is more likely to be diagnosed out of a screenwriting guide than a medical journal. Charlie is more of a set of plot devices than a fully-realized character. I admire Adam Sandler for taking roles that are outside his comic comfort zone, but the character of Charlie is too underwritten for the actor and he falls back on that low, guttural mumble that has come to signify "serious Adam Sandler". I'm one of the few that didn't like 2002's "Punch-Drunk Love"
and I never saw a need for Mr. Sandler to stretch much farther than he did in 1998's "The Wedding Singer" - still his best film. What could have been written off as a silly comedy was imbued with heart and warmth thanks to Mr. Sandler's comically grounded performance. I know it's hard to win an Academy Award for comedy (as Will Ferrell and Jack Black hilariously lampooned at this year's Oscars), but Mr. Sandler is much more likely to do it that way than with the material in "Reign".
Despite an innocuous title (from the classic song by The Who), "Reign" has its heart in the right place, and its message that everyone should be able to grieve in their own time is admirable, but Mr. Binder doesn't have enough to say to sustain the film's running time. As he did in 2005's equally slow-moving The Upside of Anger"
, Mr. Binder works from his own script here, though his use (and over-use) of pop music this time around indicates his been studying the works of Cameron Crowe. Still, the writer-director is in dire need of an editor. The last third of the film's overlong two-plus hours spirals out of control beginning with a plausibility-defying sequence involving the NYPD which appears to be written by someone who has never read a newspaper and culminating in a near-farcical trial presided over by Donald Sutherland in a performance that is at once perfect and woefully out-of-place. As Charlie soothes himself, wrapped in his headphones, lost his Roger Daltrey's wailing chorus, the film succeeds in spite of itself. I identified with Charlie. I would rather have been listening to The Who.