I missed writer-director Mike Binder's Reign Over
Me when it was released earlier this year and I got burned
for it. See, I had a chance to do a phone interview with Mr. Binder
back in August (for his The
Search for John Gissing DVD release) and after watching the
film this past weekend on DVD I found myself wanting to quiz the guy
all over again (you can read my interview
target="_blank">right here). To say I was blown away by this movie
would be overstating things. But let's put it this way: I really,
really liked it.
Don Cheadle plays Alan, a man who's dealing with communication problems with his wife, a volatile dental practice and some sort of mid-life crisis. By chance, he runs into his old college roommate, Charlie (played by Adam Sandler). Charlie isn't quick to remember Alan, but then again Charlie isn't too keen on remembering much of anything these days. The poor guy lost his wife and kids in the 9/11 attacks and suppressed much of his memory. But eventually, the two old friends rekindle their relationship, with Alan treading carefully not to remind Charlie of his family, though this eventually becomes impossible (I like to keep my reviews plot-light so I'll leave you there).
Yes, this is a movie about healing (for both characters) and if I've made it sound depressing I have done Mike Binder's film a great disservice. This is a relatively light and entertaining film. This is not a film about 9/11. The tragedy in Charlie's life could have come from anywhere, but the reference makes it feel all the more real, even if Charlie pretends it wasn't. Reign Over Me has its emotional highs and lows but the screenplay uses a lot of humor to cure pain. You will be laughing and smiling more than you will cry, I promise you. Cheadle and Sandler have a surprisingly great chemistry and it helps when you're working off of a savvy screenplay that knows how to balance the emotions of the characters and the story as a whole. You end up enjoying every minute together with these guys and the film never really veers into fatally sappy territory, which is no easy task when you think about it.
Ironically, of the two actors, I found Cheadle to be the funniest. I'm not a fan of certain critic-type terms like saying so-and-so actor "turns in a winning performance," but Cheadle turns in a winning performance. He isn't given the showy role: he's playing your Average Joe in a way, but it's some of the best work he's ever done.
Sandler is really, really good here. The guy has used repressed rage to comedic effect successfully, but here -- as he did in Punch-Drunk Love -- he uses the rage to hit legitimate dramatic notes in addition to the comedic. He has a scene late in the film that might surprise some viewers and it shows you when he's given the right material the kind of range he can have. I really believe if he weren't a comedian he would be getting more Oscar chatter.
The rest of the cast -- Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland and Mike Binder himself -- all turn in good work. I think Binder has made his best film to date (his previous best effort was 2005's The Upside of Anger) and it's a shame this film was ignored (I'll own up to my part in that), but now everyone has a chance to catch this sure-fire sleeper on DVD.
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Dre writes three times a week for Film.com. He recently watched his New York Yankees get another first round exit from the playoffs and he isn't taking any calls. E-mail him!