Screenwriter: Mike Binder
Runtime: 124 minutes
Release date: 20 April
Adam Sandler is an easily dislikeable actor; he has made a lot of stupid films and wasted a lot of people's time. Yet anybody who's seen his performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love (2002) will know not to dismiss him altogether. Like Jim Carey, Sandler is a comedic actor capable of giving something more. Judging by the trailers for Reign Over Me, nobody hates comedians being 'serious' more than marketing departments. Starring two likely lads Sandler and Don Cheadle, both capable of comic turns, this post 9/11 buddy movie is about love, life and how women don't understand the male obsession for computer games. So cue the high fives, plug in the air guitars and expect some obtuse observations about men and women, right? Wrong. Reign Over Me is a much more complex film too serious for the marketing lingo to handle. So don't be tricked; instead of a comedy it is a well observed study of the stigma of grieving in modern life.
The title refers to the stinging Quadrophenia anthem Love Reign O'er Me by The Who. Its inclusion on the soundtrack conjures up images of the young, rebellious Phil Daniels speeding dangerously along the cliff edge of Beachy Head. Yet writer/director Mike Binder uses the music track to emphasise emotional repression in urban life. The opening shots show a lonesome figure riding a motorised scooter through the enclosed streets of New York, floating like a ghost in the city. There is no sense of freedom, just a vulnerable soul in an overwhelming setting. His name is Charlie Fineman (Sandler) and he is crippled by the loss of his wife and children who perished in the 9/11 flights. Fineman is a meagre man who exists between his ipod headphones or in front of his playstation and drum kit. With a dishevelled appearance, Sandler gives his trade mark awkward frustration more depth for a notably sorrowful and understated performance.
Cheadle is Alan Johnson, a dentist married with two daughters, whose life has taken a turn for the tedious. A chance encounter with his old room mate Fineman marks an important turning point in both their lives. Their friendship is forged by desperation but a genuine bond develops despite Fineman's apparent 'amnesia'. Johnson is the core of the film, a compassionate man increasingly bewildered by a perfunctory lifestyle. Yet it is down to him to help Fineman deal with his loss and instability. A community of disparate people have come together through Fineman's grief, with Johnson as an outsider, but Cheadle can hold his own against the bigger issues and his problems don't seem trite in comparison. The 9/11 back story adds an effective quality to the tragedy. It is not just an unfortunate event that haunts Fineman but a political and cultural phenomena which has rippled across the globe and no doubt within the audience. But as with everything else in this story, subtlety is key and there is no show boating for sympathy, rather a universal point of identification.
Also featured is a talented supporting cast including; Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Robert Klein and Donald Sutherland to name a few. An actor himself, Binder's strength is letting the story unfold through the characters. Only a few uncertain moments of direction and over powering music betray a 'television' quality. The individuality of each character shines through with naturalistic performances, which are in turn humorous and thoughtful. Binder has an astute feel for tone and easily exchanges light hearted banter for profound observations. At one point the appearance of a gun marks a particularly dark turn and although it is a bleak moment, the scene is given an enigmatic beauty due to the graceful movements of Fred Astaire dancing on TV. Binder uses a frame of popular culture to isolate Fineman; his inner demons repressed by computer monsters, rock vinyl and late night Mel Brooks movies. Conversely these are all exotic in Johnson's eyes, which gives them a life affirming value. Living in an ipod 'bubble' isn't healthy practice, but therapy and possible sectioning aren't depicted as rosy alternatives. Binder is perceptive enough to not suggest any easy answers and Johnson's unhappiness is a reminder that life is difficult even when it seems perfect. Reign Over Me is a down to earth celebration of friendship which stays with you, long after you've selected your ipod playlist for the journey home.