Friday, March 23, 2007

Reign Over Me

L-R: Saffron Burrows, Liv Tyler, Adam Sandler & Don Cheadle (courtesy: Sony Pictures)

Reign Over Me is about grief and friendship. At first glance, it concerns itself with one man’s grief. Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) lost his wife and daughters (aged five, seven and nine) in one of the planes overtaken by terrorists on 9/11. Formerly a dentist, he has become a shadow of his former self and has taken to wandering (and motor-scootering) the streets of Manhattan, drumming in clubs with a heavy metal band, collecting vinyl records, playing computer games and constantly renovating his kitchen.

Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) was Charlie’s college room-mate. Upon a chance sighting of Charlie, he reconnects with his old friend. By exploring the reawakening of friendship and, through it, the attempted healing of Charlie’s grief, we also become aware of the tribulations of others who may be indirectly affected by the events of 9/11.

Grief is an unpredictable beast. It is a lonely experience and affects everyone differently. No-one can relieve a person’s burden but friendship can be a catalyst for healing. There are many sub-plots and narrative diversions in the film (which work against it), but the heart and strength of the film is Sandler’s strong performance as a grieving man who is over the edge. Having lost everything dear to him, he rejects all who try to get close to him.

An important message of the film was that judgements may be made about people around us and their characteristics. But opinions should be reserved without knowing more about a person’s circumstances.

I’ve mentioned before that there are a number of actors who cut their teeth in comedy but appear more convincing in serious roles. This includes Robin Williams (Dead Poet’s Society, One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting), Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon), Steve Martin (Grand Canyon, Shopgirl) and Kevin Klein (Grand Canyon, The Ice Storm).

As he did in Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler shows that he too can be more convincing in a serious role. Perhaps comics playing serious roles messes with our expectations. We expect a gag at any moment, and when it is not forthcoming, the seriousness of the situation has more impact. Maybe?

The film is a crowd-pleaser (or attempts to be) that uses various devices to make some serious issues palatable to a wide audience. I found many of the devices irritating. Some, taken on their own, are not a problem, but with so many, the cumulative effect couldn’t be ignored.

I had a problem with the link to 9/11. It felt exploitative, as if losing a family in that way would be a greater loss than say, a car accident. Of course, 9/11 is a valid issue to explore, but the cumulative effect of Charlie losing his beautiful wife and three beautiful daughters on that day all seems contrived for maximum manipulation of our heart strings (and mind you, it really does work at times). I’d have related better if it were a less sensationalistic scenario. Charlie’s loss and Alan’s apparent success in life both seem to be exaggerated and lack subtlety.

There’s no real comparison, but as I’ve seen several Kieslowski films recently at Melbourne Cinémathèque, his films come to mind as to how grief can be depicted with conviction and mastery. Perhaps Wayne Wang’s Smoke (1995) is a fairer comparison. It is a much more effective exploration of male bonding and grief, largely because it is subdued and realistic (and well-written).


On at least two occasions, a character’s selecting a vinyl record resulted in a track from that record being played shortly thereafter in the film. It became too predictable. The music that Charlie listened to, such as Springsteen, seemed to be inconsistent with the heavy metal band he performed in.

At the start we see Charlie riding his motorised scooter around Manhattan. One moment it is day, the next night. It appears that the intention was to depict how Charlie is lost to himself and how he floats for hours through the city, a ghost of his former self. But the transition between day and night was abrupt and ineffective. While this could be overlooked, it annoyingly occurred a second time.

Alan’s receptionist was quirky and appeared to be used as a comic device to lighten the tone of the film. Sure, Binder found an interestingly different personality to project and she was funny enough, but the idea of a quirky receptionist has been done to death.

While Alan’s sense of alienation from his wife was believable, given her character traits, the dynamics between them lacked verisimilitude. They reminded me of the black couple in Paul Haggis’ Crash (2004), which also seemed too staged. Cheadle enjoyed the major screen time but his acting often seemed a bit hollow. Also, Alan’s sudden expression of dissatisfaction with his job seemed tokenistic and was emotionally unconvincing.

The main female roles (except the receptionist) were all played by beautiful women. The roles weren’t major, and the casting seems to be focused on ‘window-dressing’ rather than realism.

The most ridiculous scene involved Alan being confronted by one of these women while he is working on a client’s teeth. He encourages the conversation, because the girl is under a general anaesthetic and the nurse apparently speaks no English. The situation was embarrassingly silly beyond belief.

Another ludicrous scenario involved the same woman making a sexual proposition that was pure male fantasy. It completely conflicts with our expectations of reality. The consequences of this among the dental partnership were predictable and hackneyed.

A later court scene was similarly clichéd, in which Donald Sutherland performs well as a paternalistic judge, but was hampered by poor writing. Charlie’s father-in-law leaving photos in front of Charlie was implausible and should have extracted condemnation from the judge, but rather Charlie was dragged away catatonic.


Like the recently released Bobby, there were many parts of the film that showed intelligence but attempts at being too profound were to its detriment. At 124 minutes, it was over-long (20-30 minutes could have been cut) – it wasn’t engaging enough to warrant the length.

The visuals were generally up to scratch, though I noticed right away that it was filmed digitally. It reminds me of Collateral – the night scenes look very grainy. I’m not a big fan of the look – hopefully the technology will soon improve – though the person with me didn’t notice it at all.

New York was filmed beautifully, without being too picture-perfect. The scenes looked authentic and Charlie looked completely in place riding his scooter around the East Village and surrounding areas. More attention to detail regarding the scooter would have been more satisfying. Any visitor to Manhattan knows that in reality, Charlie would have taken the scooter indoors and not chained it up outside, as occurred on at least two occasions (anything left on the street would be quickly stolen or stripped).

As a point of interest, the film’s title is derived from The Who’s Love, Reign O’er Me, covered by Pearl Jam for the film’s soundtrack. The relevance of the film’s title is not overly evident, but is left to the imagination.

While there is merit to Reign Over Me, and Adam Sandler was surprisingly good, the film’s strengths were overshadowed by its many flaws. Many won’t have a problem with these imperfections and for them it could be a very enjoyable film. But not for me.

Official website / IMDB

Dir, Scr: Mike Binder Rating: M Duration: 124 min Genre: drama Language: English Country: USA Release: 22/3/07 Dist: Sony Pictures Releasing Prod Co: Mr. Madison/Sunlight Productions Prod: Michael Rotenberg, Jack Binder Sound Des: David Bach, Elmo Weber Phot: Russ Alsobrook Ed: Steve Edwards, Jeremy Roush Prod Des: Pipo Wintter Mus: Rolfe Kent Cast: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows

1 comment:

themarina said...

I've made plans to see this tomorrow but my big concern going in is also the 9/11 connection. I skipped the "spoilers" portion of the review but I'll be sure to check back in after the viewing.

Thanks for the heads up.