Review by Paul Stathakis | March 28, 2007

You’re a good hus­band, Alan. You remind me of me.”

Char­lie (Adam San­dler) sees good­ness in Alan (Don Chea­dle) and recalls a time where he was a sim­i­lar­ly affec­tion­ate fam­i­ly man. Even though Char­lie appears on the screen as a hap­less man when we first meet him on a New York side­walk, his hair tou­sled and wear­ing large stereo­phon­ic head­phones, we believe he was once cheer­ful. The Char­lie that Alan seems to remem­ber so vivid­ly has trans­formed into a sad man who is lost, dis­con­nect­ed from him­self and the world around him.

We learn that Char­lie and Alan were once col­lege room­mates. They were both study­ing to become den­tists and only one of them kept up with the pro­fes­sion. When Alan con­fronts Char­lie on the street, after years of not speak­ing to him, Char­lie looks dum­found­ed and although he wants to make Alan believe he remem­bers him, he doesn’t. “You used to sleep in the nude,” says Alan. Char­lie remains clue­less. Even­tu­al­ly, the mem­o­ries do come back to Char­lie and he is hap­py to recon­nect with his old friend.

Mike Binder is a film­mak­er whose recent films were con­trast­ed around solemn themes. The Upside of Anger dealt with a father’s alco­holic bat­tle while Man About Town focused on a tal­ent agent’s world falling apart. Reign Over Me is no less dif­fer­ent than Binder’s oth­er films, strik­ing a sim­i­lar tear-jerk­ing film filled engrossed by a feel­ing of deep desperation.

Char­lie lost his fam­i­ly in the trag­ic events of Sep­tem­ber 11. The event has left Char­lie trau­ma­tized. One psy­chol­o­gist iden­ti­fies Charlie’s con­di­tion as “post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der” although his case seems graver. He can­not for­get about the cat­a­stroph­ic inci­dent as much as he would like to. When­ev­er he is remind­ed about his fam­i­ly or love, he throws tantrums, becomes furi­ous, destruc­tive and unpre­dictable – like wit­ness­ing the impul­sive trans­for­ma­tion of the Incred­i­ble Hulk.

Reign Over Me” isn’t a com­e­dy, though there are moments that lean towards laugh­ter. These moments are pre­dom­i­nant­ly reliev­ing and play like inter­mis­sions between the film’s depress­ing moments. The movie is cer­tain­ly not flaw­less. It isn’t quite sure how it wants its char­ac­ters to evolve and it lacks clo­sure. But, aside from the incon­sis­ten­cies in direc­tion, there are instances in the sto­ry that deserve to be admired, if not for their emo­tion­al suprema­cy then their real­is­tic nature.

The per­for­mances are remark­able for the way they tie in nice­ly with the nat­ur­al doc­u­men­tary style of the movie. Not one sen­tence or word of dia­logue feels rehearsed, espe­cial­ly when Char­lie and Alan vis­it a music shop or when Char­lie describes his pain to Alan.

Those who are not sold on the fact that Adam San­dler can be seri­ous should see “Reign Over Me” to see how far the actor has come since his fun­ny days as a mem­ber of the Sat­ur­day Night Live troop.

San­dler choos­es chal­leng­ing roles (“Punch-Drunk Love”, “Click”) and Char­lie is an exam­ple of such a por­tray­al. Ini­tial­ly, we sup­pose the sto­ry is about one man whose fam­i­ly reigns over his emo­tions and his actions.

The sur­prise, how­ev­er, is that “Reign Over Me” is not mere­ly about Char­lie but also those around him who des­per­ate­ly want to save him, those who are uni­form­ly affect­ed by his deep hurting.


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