Reign Over Me Review

While not a “9/11 movie ” nor attempting to be Reign Over Me sheds light on a different kind of post-September 11 rubble than what we’re used to seeing dramatized: The emotional rubble. On that fateful day Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) lost his wife and daughters–and he pretty much died also. Ever since he has shut himself out from New York City and the city from him unable to move on with his life or recall anything from 9/11 or before it. His old college roommate Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) leads a completely different life professionally and domestically but he struggles with the ennui of success at dentistry and marriage—thanks to a sex-crazed patient (Saffron Burrows) and an overbearing but well-meaning wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) respectively. After bumping into Charlie who claims not to remember him Alan strikes up a relationship with his old buddy and tries to help Charlie start anew and come to terms with the past. And while Alan pities Charlie he simultaneously envies his unparalleled freedom. Even though Reign will make a good chunk of its money on speculation tickets bought by Sandler fans it is obviously something different from what we’ve come to expect from the God of Goof. His performance is not without Sandler-isms but the overall immaturity is impressively kept in check and Sandler delivers most when his character’s emotions peak. Still it’s impossible not to wonder how much more a different actor could’ve soared in the role even if partly because Sandler’s quick-to-giggle audience precedes him. Conversely there is virtually no role unbefitting Cheadle which he further proves in Reign. It’s not gaudy like Hotel Rwanda and he’s not necessarily the lead here but Cheadle as always lends so much effortless authenticity. The formidable supporting actors all serve their purposes even if a few of their characters are somewhat dubious. In addition to Pinkett Smith and Burrows whose supermodel-like beauty is frankly a bit distracting from her character’s complexity Liv Tyler (as the shrink enlisted to help Charlie) Donald Sutherland (as a judge) writer-director Mike Binder (as Charlie’s accountant) and The Office’s B.J. Novak (as a lawyer) also co-star. In concept Reign Over Me is awfully intriguing a different take on the still-unfolding aftermath of September 11. But 9/11 no matter how scant the references remains a very slippery slope. Ultimately the only way to come to grips with writer-director Binder’s 9/11 tie-in is to concede that it makes the story more contemporary and less fictional. It’s just difficult to conclude whether it is more or less admirable to use that day as a mere backstory for a movie. But Binder’s story is certainly well intentioned and ambitious—maybe too ambitious as is often a director’s weakness. Binder (Upside of Anger) tries to cramp into his dramedy far too many elements and while never exactly a failure the result can be weird. Too many metaphors—including the title taken from the Who song that Charlie often listens to on his headphones—and character flaws—the screenplay kind not the real-life kind—send the movie up and down tonally. Binder does however paint a vastly warm luminous NYC—a character all its own rightfully so.