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Reign Over Me

Reviewed by Kevin Pearson.

Director Mike Binder
Length 124 mins
Certificate 15
Rating ******----
Filmmaking: 2  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article There is some small cultural significance to Reign Over Me in that it is the first film involving 9/11 that hits major multiplexes unscathed by critical backlash. Both World Trade Center (2006) and United 93 came in for serious criticism and heated debate, while an earlier film, The Guys (2002), about the firefighters involved, went unnoticed mainly because it was a small release. Reign Over Me is the first film about the tragic day that is just solid mainstream entertainment. Considering that the effects of 9/11 are still felt everywhere, from the war in Iraq to the inability to capture Bin Laden, this film may be the first evidence in pop culture that the US is starting to get past the tragedy.

The irony is that the film is about the inability to cope with the after-effects of that day. Adam Sandler stars as Charlie Fineman, a man who lost his family on one of the 9/11 flights and now lives a hollow existence of playing video games and collecting vinyl. These activities distance him from the pain of the memories. He also avoids relatives and friends he associated with when married; he has become a shell of himself and is unrecognizable to almost everyone. That is until his old college roommate, Alan Johnson (played by Don Cheadle) bumps into him and restarts a friendship. Fineman accepts Johnson because he is a memory from before his family, and Johnson is trying to help an old friend deal with his trauma.

The film is by Mike Binder. Formerly from television, he has also made The Upside of Anger (2005), a film that combined the humour of his television work with the subject of family loss. The storytelling tried to mix both elements together without losing the sincerity of the latter. The results were mixed, but the storytelling did allow excellent performances from the two major actors, Kevin Costner and Joan Allen. He tries to mix both elements again here and the results are better. The focus is tighter and the film is long enough to ensure that it becomes impossible not to care about the two main characters. The story is still the stuff of lightweight Hollywood, with one-dimensional characters on the side, but there is a charm to it that makes the experience rewarding.

As in Binder’s last film, the greatest rewards are in the acting. Don Cheadle, a gifted actor, comes full circle and allows himself to be inviting and charming before he digs at the nature of his role. He shows a natural likeability that was lacking in earlier performances. Adam Sandler continues his sporadic attempts at seriousness. He here echoes his disjointed role in Punch-Drunk Love (2003) of a social invalid, but this time allows for a more rounded performance that shows greater dimensions of that earlier character, and we are given more room to identify with him.

It is hard to wholeheartedly recommend a certainly flawed film for the reason that it is charming and likeable, but Reign Over Me truly is that. As a 9/11 film, it actually succeeds due to the distance it has to the subject: this film isn’t a memorial, but a look at loss and hardship that becomes easy for anyone to grasp and understand. The fact that most people will open their arms to this movie is likely its best recommendation.

This review was published on April 24, 2007.

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