Directed by: Mike Binder
Premise: A New York dentist (Don Cheadle) reunites with his college roommate (Adam Sandler), who is now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after losing his entire family in the September 11th attack.
What Works: Reign Over Me is a smart and emotional film about adults living in isolation within the day-to-day grind with the 9/11 attack looming in the background. Most of the major characters have a sense of isolation and are looking for some kind of connection or are running from it. Playing dentist Alan Johnson, Don Cheadle gives a strong performance as a man struggling to maintain his sense of self and masculinity despite a suffocating marriage by reaching out to Charlie to recapture his college glory days. Saffron Burrows stars in a supporting role as a woman who has just gone through a divorce and has a shattered self image as a result. Her nervous but subtle performance adds another layer of texture and supports Sandler’ role as Charlie Fineman. Reign Over Me capitalizes on Adam Sandler’s comedic image as a boy trapped in a man’s body and uses that for dramatic potential, using it to sell Charlie Fineman’s post-traumatic stress disorder and color the immature behaviors associated with it. Sandler gives one of his strongest dramatic performances of his career and is able to be emotional without the overdone sentimentality that is kind of role usually leads him into. Aside from the immediate drama of the story, Reign Over Me has something to say about how our culture has dealt with the fallout of 9/11 and some related issues like the Iraq War. Fineman’s disorder is a great microcosm for the way people have dealt with stress, which is to bury themselves in music and other distractions in order to avoid actually dealing with the pain of loss.
What Doesn’t: Jada Pinkett Smith stars as Janeane, Alan’s overbearing wife. While her performance is good, the writing lacks a bit here, and she comes across as the stereotyped bossy, middle class African American wife seen in other films like I Think I Love My Wife. It is one of the few roles that does not give the character room to breathe and that is unfortunate.
Bottom Line: Reign Over Me stands as one of the best post-9/11 films yet made in part because it deals with life after the trauma and how we as a culture are dealing with that. The film does not tell us everything will be all right, but watching Sander’s character face up to his demons is a satisfyingly therapeutic experience.
Episode: #139 (April 29, 2007)