A man who lost his family in the September 11 attack on New York City runs into his old college roommate. Rekindling the friendship is the one thing that appears able to help the man recover from his grief.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
Alan Johnson has everything he needs to get through life: a good job, a beautiful and loving wife, and their wonderful children. Yet he feels isolated because he finds having a hard-working job and managing a family too much to handle and has no one to talk to about it. Charlie Fineman, on the other hand, doesn't have a job or a family. He used to have both until a terrible loss, and the grief caused him to quit his job and isolate himself from everyone around him. As it turns out, Alan and Charlie were roommates in college, and a chance encounter one night rekindles the friendship they shared. But when Charlie's problems become too much to deal with, Alan is determined to help Charlie come out of his emotional abyss. Written by
Reign Over Me is a success due to the powerful work by Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. While comedic actors going dramatic has been seen as somewhat of a distraction, Sandler is no stranger to playing more serious roles. Most of the characters he portrays have an unstable temperament and a vulnerability that can burst at any moment. He might even be typecast for characters with such hidden anger problems. However, this performance has some considerable dramatic weight, unlike his roles in less comedic fare like Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish.
In the film, Alan Johnson (Cheadle) runs into his old college roommate, Charlie Finerman (Sandler), whom he hasn't seen in several years. Five years before, Charlie suffered the overwhelming loss of his wife and three daughters in a plane crash. Charlie barely even recognizes Cheadle's character due to the repression of his memories and consequent reclusive childish lifestyle since the accident. It isn't until Alan persists in engaging him in conversation that Charlie remembers who he is. Their renewed relationship that follows will allow Finerman to have a friend who doesn't speak about his loss, eventually enabling him to confront the thoughts and feelings he has suppressed on his own terms.
Though writer-director Mike Binder doesn't show much sense of an individual style and some of his shots and transitions are a bit awkward, he does have a knack of getting decent to great performances from his actors while being a talented and funny writer. He shot this film with a digital camera, as more and more filmmakers are doing today, enabling the crew to shoot the night scenes with limited lighting. This kept the colorful backgrounds of New York City in focus, but resulted in creating frequent digital grain, which resembles blue specks scattered and moving on the screen.
Almost every main character in Reign Over Me gives a great performance. Jada-Pinkett Smith and especially Liv Tyler are memorable in their respective roles as a frustrated wife to Cheadle's character and a psychiatrist. However, it is Sandler and Cheadle that give some of their finest work to date. They completely owned this movie. Sandler actually plays a character that doesn't outwardly resemble or act like himself at all, partially credited to his Bob Dylan-esquire wig. Though Cheadle's character has more screen time than Sandler, they both should be considered to be leading roles, as they equally support and help each other throughout the film.
Music also plays a great part in this film, especially the title song "Reign Over Me," or "Love, Reign O'er Me" by The Who, and later covered by Pearl Jam. In one of the most powerful moments of the film, Binder shows Sandler using music to shut out his feelings and memories, but this particular song provokes such intense emotion that rather than diminishing his anger, it incites his emotions. All an all, Reign Over Me is an enjoyable, sad, yet many times funny film, driven by its amazing leading performances.
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