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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