Reign Over Me

| March 21, 2007

I can’t believe I am going to say this… You need to go see Reign Over Me to see Adam Sandler act. He has found a raw nerve close to the collective surface of our society and dug deeply into it. The two men star as former college roommates whose paths cross in downtown Manhattan. Sandler is Charlie Fineman, a man completely devastated by the loss of his family on 9/11. Cheadle is Dr. Alan Johnson, a dentist that is living his life but not loving his life. Their renewed friendship helps each of them find their way to a better place.
Reign Over Me was written and directed by Mike Binder (Upside of Anger, Indian Summer). I read in an article saying that he was in New York on that horrible day and saw that there were so many people walking around, crying, and you knew they had lost someone. A couple of years later, on a family trip back to New York, he thought that there were “still people wandering the streets who lost someone that day. Everyone else has moved on, but these people are still living with it. What’s that like?”
In this film, thanks to Sandler, he nailed it. The feelings that Sandler shows are so easy to see and accept as real. The seething anger over losing his family is always just below the surface. The need to repress the heartache forces him to focus on the music he constantly has running through his headphones–music from his pre-family days. And the regret, which manifests itself with Fineman having to continually remodel his kitchen because of a past family argument. Sandler is brilliant in sharing Fineman’s life with us. He took himself to a place where the character is frustrated with not knowing what is going on and we get lost with him. I am so glad that Tom Cruise, who Binder wrote the role for, passed on this film.
Cheadle continues to be a reason I make a movie a must-see. Traffic, Hotel Rwanda, Crash–he is a performer who makes an entire cast better. I very much enjoy allowing him to take me on a journey through a story. In fact, when I saw Sandler, a comic actor, was starring in this film, I figured that it was okay–Cheadle would save it. He did, but not for Sandler’s sake.
Indeed, the cast as a whole is excellent, with some truly terrific ensemble work. Binder takes a role as Fineman’s accountant. Liv Tyler (Armageddon, Lord of the Rings) is Fineman’s doctor. Saffron Burrows (Timecode) as another patient of Dr. Oakhurst delivers what was, to me, a turning point line. Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon play the Timplemans–Fineman’s in-laws, who are dealing with a pain of their own. There is one scene where they are confronted by Sandler that will make you wish you had tissues. And finally, Donald Sutherland is a judge who must decide Fineman’s future.
I need to add a little bit about the music, which is not kept in the background. It is a character unto itself that helps Fineman escape. If you are a fan of rock and roll, there are a lot of songs which you will instantly remember and experience. Bruce Springstein, Jackson Browne and The Pretenders show up, but because of the title, we wait for, of course, the title song, “Reign O’er Me”–which, when it finally appears, you feel you need a break from the movie to get lost in Roger Daltrey’s powerful vocals from Quadrophenia. Welcome to Fineman’s world. Fineman’s trouble with loss has made him seek out people, situations and hobbies that have little to do with his life with his family. It is why he lets Johnson in–he had nothing to do with his married life, but with life “before.” Another escape is a computer game called Shadow of Colossus, which has a goal of rescuing your wife or girlfriend. It is you against the monsters in your life, and Fineman has plenty of them. So does Johnson, and he instantly becomes attached to the game.
It is still early in 2007 when this film is getting its release. It will be on my top 10 for the year. It gets my highest rating when I tell you that you should go see it in the theaters this weekend!

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