Reign Over Me (2007)

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Reign Over Me
Dir. Mike Binder
Premiered March 23, 2007

When I set out to do this series, I wanted to review Reign Over Me because, despite tons of mentions of it as an example of Adam Sandler doing a “good movie,” I seemed to recall that it wasn’t well-received. But, with a 64% fresh rating from RottenTomatoes, maybe it was just me. Maybe I saw clips of Sandler’s acting, which may, in short bursts, have come off as “going full retard.” And while there had been previous films involving the September 11 attacks, this was the first time that the attacks served as a plot point for an original story, which may have seemed distasteful at the time (says the man now trying to make his own 9/11 movie). I may have misjudged it.

One day, dentist Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) spots his old college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), who lost his wife and daughters on one of the the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Fineman is drawn to Johnson as someone who didn’t know his family, and brings him into his lonely, repressed life of classic rock, video games, and endlessly remodeling his kitchen. Eventually, Johnson tries to bring Fineman out more, to deal with his grief in a healthy manner, with mixed results.

While far from perfect, Reign Over Me provides one the best performances of Adam Sandler’s career, certainly the only one I know of in which he does not play some variation on his established persona, and it is heartbreaking. This is the first film I’ve ever seen that explicitly deals with post-traumatic stress disorder in a non-military context, and while the film doesn’t always provide the right tone, Charlie’s crisis is never treated as a source of innocent wisdom or a window into the human spirit or any other Hollywood cliché, but as a miserable illness from which a decent person is clearly suffering, and it isn’t all fixed at the end, which is painful, but refreshingly honest, and the film is consistently engrossing. Altogether, this film a pleasant surprise.

Additional Thoughts
One thing that can ruin an otherwise good movie is a bad score (see Absence of Malice), and Reign Over Me almost shoots itself in the foot with the frequent use of what I can only describe as “quirky strings.”

How Did It Do?
Reign Over Me was the first feature film to deal directly with the psychological impact of the 9/11 attacks, just a year after Hollywood had dipped its toes into (overall respectful) portrayals of that day’s actual events. It came at just the right time, but wasn’t big or important enough to score big with critics or audiences. In addition to the okay 64% rating on RottenTomatoes, it only grossed $22.2 million, nowhere near enough to cover the combination of its $20 million budget and associated marketing. Like Breach, Reign Over Me gives the distinct impression that it was made to be an awards contender but that distributer Columbia Pictures disagreed.

Next Time: Meet the Robinsons

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