Reign of tears


Mostly Adam Sandler is known for really gross films that are Box Office hits once a year with films that are completely lacking in taste, and appeal to the blue collar section of the public. Last year Sandler had Click, which was funny in a scatological way and made enough money and earned a nomination for an Oscar to shut Adam Sandler up.

Sandler, some producers feel, can act, so he was quietly good in Spanglish, and in Reign Over Me, acting opposite Don Cheadle, he shines.

Reign Over Me explores the nature of grief. Can we stay grief struck forever? How does grief manifest itself when we have to function in a society however minimally? Sandler’s character is frozen in grief, Don Cheadle’s character has problems but recognises Sandler’s greater need. Together they make Reign Over Me an emotionally wobbly movie that is well-worth seeing.

Writes critic Brian Marder in more or less agreement, “While not a ‘9/11 movie’, nor attempting to be, Reign Over Me sheds light on a different kind of post-September 11 rubble than what we’re used to seeing dramatised. On that fateful day, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) lost his wife and daughters — and he pretty much died also. Ever since, he has shut himself out from New York City and the city from him, unable to move on with his life or recall anything from 9/11 or before it. His old college roommate, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), leads a completely different life professionally and domestically, but he struggles with the ennui of success at dentistry and marriage — thanks to a sex-crazed patient (Saffron Burrows) and an overbearing but well-meaning wife (Jada Pinkett Smith), respectively. After bumping into Charlie, who claims not to remember him, Alan strikes up a relationship with his old buddy and tries to help Charlie start anew and come to terms with the past. And while Alan pities Charlie, he simultaneously envies his unparalleled freedom.

Even though Reign will make a good chunk of its money on speculation tickets bought by Sandler fans, it is obviously something different from what we’ve come to expect from the God of Goof. His performance is not without Sandler-isms, but the overall immaturity is impressively kept in check, and Sandler delivers most when his character’s emotions peak. Conversely, there is virtually no role unbefitting Cheadle, which he further proves in Reign. It’s not gaudy like Hotel Rwanda, and he’s not necessarily the lead here, but Cheadle, as always, lends so much effortless authenticity. The formidable supporting actors all serve their purposes, even if a few of their characters are somewhat dubious. In addition to Pinkett Smith and Burrows, whose supermodel-like beauty is frankly a bit distracting from her character’s complexity, Liv Tyler (as the shrink enlisted to help Charlie), Donald Sutherland (as a judge), writer-director Mike Binder (as Charlie’s accountant) and The Office’s BJ Novak (as a lawyer) also co-star.

In concept, Reign Over Me is awfully intriguing, a different take on the still-unfolding aftermath of September 11. But 9/11, no matter how scant the references, remains a very slippery slope. Ultimately, the only way to come to grips with writer-director Binder’s 9/11 tie-in is to concede that it makes the story more contemporary and less fictional. It’s just difficult to conclude whether it is more or less admirable to use that day as a mere backstory for a movie. But Binder’s story is certainly well intentioned and ambitious. Binder paints a vastly warm, luminous NYC — a character all its own, rightfully so.”