March 23, 2007


'Reign Over Me'
: Don Cheadle gives Adam Sandler space to do his serious thing. (Kevin Crust, March 23, 2007, LA Times)

Don Cheadle stars as Alan Johnson, a successful New York dentist, jolted out of a melancholia of indeterminate causes when he unexpectedly encounters Adam Sandler's Charlie Fineman, his college roommate with whom he'd lost contact. That Charlie does not recognize him and appears to have suffered some type of breakdown only energizes Alan's desire to rekindle their friendship.

The oddly matched pair begins to hang out, with Alan drawn into Charlie's strangely cloistered world of vintage rock. He's got a music room where he plays along to vinyl records, and he somewhat incongruously drums in a local punk band. The music is a haven from any reminders of a life he lost.

In hair that looks like it was borrowed from late-model Bob Dylan, Charlie is one sad and scary cat. The tragedy that triggered Charlie's withdrawal from life in the first place hovers in the background like a dark cloud threatening a downpour.

One minute he's feverishly scaling the video game heights of Shadow of the Colossus, the next he's retreating into the safety of his iPod. It's a one-man frat-boy world devoid of responsibility that's marvelously attractive to the reserved Alan.

A scattershot dramatist at best in terms of plot, Binder rigs his scenarios like rickety scaffolding, and you wonder how they remain standing. Like his "The Upside of Anger," with Joan Allen and Kevin Costner as well-matched suburban lushes, "Reign Over Me" depends on the interaction of its complexly drawn characters to remain compelling even when its plot veers into questionable territory.

Along with two excellent lead performances, the film has a fine supporting cast, including Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland and Binder himself. Binder's people are not anyone you'd ask over for dinner, but it's fascinating to watch them argue, negotiate and cajole one another in exasperatingly human ways. The two men at the center of "Reign" are both treading water, and though their situations and reunion feel awfully contrived, there's an authenticity to the way Alan gravitates to Charlie and then tries to help him.

We've seen Sandler do serious before -- notably in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Punch-Drunk Love" -- so it should be no surprise that he pulls it off here. There's always an underlying anger to Sandler's most interesting performances, that sense that he's going to pop at any moment. Charlie allows him to be all the things that have made him a lively performer -- outrageous, vulnerable, goofy and violent, almost simultaneously.

It helps that Sandler has the intensely reactive Cheadle to play off, especially when he delivers a key monologue that easily could have gone awry. Generosity is the sign of a great actor, and Cheadle shares the screen in an illuminating way. Alan is the ostensible protagonist, but Cheadle is confident enough to essentially play straight man to Sandler's inherently showier role.

While Don Cheadle is easily the best dramatic actor of his generation, only too many bad film choices prevent Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler from being #2 and #3. With better representation, both could be peers of Jimmy Stewart.

Reign Over Me (Todd Hertz, 03/23/07, Christianity Today)

When Charlie feels threatened or must keep his mind from wandering to uncomfortable thoughts, he retreats into loud classic rock played over his headphones. One of those songs--played prominently several times in the film--is The Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me" (redone for the film's soundtrack by Pearl Jam). It's obvious that it's not just a random song placement. In fact, the song's title fills in the word missing from the film's name.

What does Charlie need to reign over him? Love.

In telling the story of Alan's steady, bold and abrasive love slowly brightening Charlie's dark world, Reign Over Me hits on poignant, profound themes that make you think. This movie will lead to great discussions. Christians will see several ideas and thoughts reflected from the Bible. And Charlie's attitudes, emotional traps and side effects of grief may remind any audience of hurting loved ones--or themselves. After the film, you may think of hurting friends you need to call. I did. You may feel the need to talk to your spouse about what you want for them if you pass on first. I did. There are just so many provocative truths.

We see an example of why God designed us for close friendships and biblical fellowship. We see why we need one other--and, sometimes, need help from trained professionals. We see the importance of communication. We see the reality of people painfully holed up in their grief. We see the need to not run from or bury past loves, losses and mistakes, but instead remember--as painful as that process may be. We see why love is selfless. And we see the reason for Paul's message in Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit are doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (NIV).

At its heart, the movie is about people who have lost their bearings through tragedy, and dealing with it in unhealthy ways. It's redeeming and powerful--though uncomfortable to watch at times because it's about messy people navigating messy lives. And like in life, nothing heals quickly and easily. Instead, progress comes in fits and starts--and tends to hit rock bottom just when you think everything's getting better.

Who Else but an Old Buddy Can Tell How Lost You Are? (A. O. SCOTT, 3/23/07, NY Times)
Like "The Upside of Anger," in which Mr. Binder benefited from fine work by Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, "Reign Over Me" uses the rhythms and moods of comedy to explore, and also to contain, overpowering feelings of loss, anger and hurt. And like that earlier movie, this one is maddeningly uneven.

It's rare to see so many moments of grace followed by so many stumbles and fumbles, or to see intelligence and discretion undone so thoroughly by glibness and grossness. And it is puzzling, and ultimately draining, to see a film that waves the flag of honesty -- Face your demons! Speak from your heart! Open up! -- turn out to be so phony.

The best scenes are those that give Mr. Cheadle and Mr. Sandler room to play against each other, to bring their very different temperaments into a workable syncopation. The premise of their relationship is fairly schematic. Alan, who resumes his friendship with Charlie after years of being out of touch, tries to coax his old pal back into contact with the world around him, while Charlie's life of compulsive play allows Alan a furlough from his confining responsibility. The two actors perform the dance of superego and id with impressive ease and suavity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 23, 2007 7:15 AM
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