Reign Over Me

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Reign Over Me
Review (9/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

Every once in awhile, we are given the opportunity to watch a film that provides a profound window of insight into the dark corners of the human condition. These films convey emotion in such a subtle and nuanced manner that the audience feels that that they are watching real life unfold before their eyes.

Unfortunately, these rare gems often do not possess the box office appeal of a special effects spectacle such as Spiderman, a sweeping drama such as Saving Private Ryan or an inane comedy such as Anchorman and therefore must travel a far more difficult road to secure studio approval. But it is because these films are rare that, when they do make their way to the theatre, it is a travesty to allow them to go unwatched.

In 2007, one of these rare gems has surfaced in the form of a film called Reign Over Me, a drama that explores the relationship between two men as they attempt to negotiate the complex and often cruel realities that life has dealt to them.

Reign Over Me examines the relationship between Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) and Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), one-time friends and college roommates whose paths cross several years after their graduation from dental school.

Alan seems to have a picture perfect life. He has a successful practice as a cosmetic dentist. He has a beautiful wife and two daughters. But, in reality, he feels isolated and disconnected, and he experiences no joy in his life. Charlie, on the other hand, did have a perfect life. He, too, had a successful dental practice, a beautiful wife and three adorable daughters. He knew joy, laughter and love. But, in a cruel twist of fate, he lost everything when his family boarded a plane on September 11th, 2001. The reunion causes the two men to embark upon a cathartic voyage of healing and self-discovery.

Reign Over Me is a film written and directed by Mike Binder, a moderately successful actor, writer, director and producer whose previous credits include "Indian Summer" and "The Upside of Anger". In spite of the relatively modest success of his projects to date, Binder's talent as a writer and director has garnered him respect and credibility in Hollywood. It is for this reason that he has been able to attract actors such as Joan Allen, Don Cheadle, Adam Sandler and Julia Roberts to his projects. Reign Over Me will only serve to enhance Binder's reputation amongst his peers.

The success of this film results from the combination of excellent writing and directing with two superb acting performances. Sandler, who has made a career of over-the-top comedic performances, delivers a poignant and credible portrayal of a man who is consumed by the trauma of his loss. This is the strongest performance of Sandler's career (better than his critically acclaimed role in "Punch Drunk Love") and I will be shocked if it is overlooked next year during awards season. Cheadle, who is good even when he is butchering a British accent in the Ocean's Eleven franchise, delivers an excellent performance as a man in the throes of an identity crisis.

While it has many light moments, Reign Over Me is not a light movie. It is raw and emotional and, at times, difficult to watch. It is a realistic portrayal of a man in the throes of a post-traumatic crisis. The fact that, faced with similar circumstances, Charlie Fineman's story could be the story of any one of us causes the film to assume the added dimension of a disturbing reality play.

The emotional response evoked by this film is enhanced by its outstanding soundtrack. Much like a favourite sweater or comfort food, classic songs by Graham Nash, Bruce Springsteen and The Who create an aura of nostalgia and a yearning for the uncomplicated days of one's youth. I cannot remember a soundtrack this consistently good since Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs or Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous.

Reign Over Me is a film that provides a graphic portrayal of the realities of trauma, grief and loss. Its includes enough light moments to keep it from drowning in a sea of despair, is emotional without being sappy and manages to allow the audience to leave the theatre with a cautious sense of optimism without resorting to a manufactured, cliched ending. If you are someone who enjoys the occasional film that reminds you why it is good to be alive, be sure to catch this gem before it is gone.

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