****1/2 out of *****
“Reign Over Me” features a character who lost his family on September 11.
However, the film is not about 9/11, but rather it is a broader look at grief and healing and communication.
It’s also funny, which might surprise some who only know of the movie from its trailers. That such serious thematic concerns can coexist with comedy is what makes “Reign Over Me” a special and memorable film.
Adam Sandler gives perhaps his best dramatic performance as Charlie Fineman, a man who lost his family on 9/11, and who has been unwilling to confront his grief.
Fineman is contrasted with his college roommate Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful dentist with a wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and kids.
However, despite his seeming contentedness, Alan is also wrestling with some issues. When a psychiatrist named Angela (Liv Tyler) asks Alan how he is, he replies, “I can’t complain,” prompting Angela to respond, “But is that the same thing as being fine?”
Alan, who has neither seen nor heard from Charlie in years, encounters him on the street one day. Charlie’s speech is halting and slurred, his hair is seriously disheveled, and he can’t seem to remember that he and Alan were roommates.
After spending some time with Charlie, Alan decides to try and help his friend deal with his grief, which is no easy task since Charlie refuses to talk about his family and is prone (as are many of Sandler’s characters) to outbursts of violence.
“Reign Over Me” is the story of Charlie and Alan’s odyssey, as both men take small steps towards becoming better people.
This is all predictable stuff, but it’s the strength of both Sandler and Cheadle’s performances, along with the particulars of this story, that allow “Reign Over Me” to succeed.
Charlie has many of the same mannerisms as Sandler’s other characters, but the difference this time is that we know the source of these mannerisms. Sandler pushes himself with this role, but not so much that the audience can’t suspend disbelief.
While Sandler’s performance is more ostentatious, Cheadle plays the everyman, giving the film its center.
Cheadle is a terrifically diverse and underrated actor, and here he showcases both his comic chops (his body language in a scene where a patient makes a highly unusual request is priceless) as well as his dramatic abilities.
The film is largely plotless, which is actually a virtue in this situation because it allows the progression of Alan and Charlie’s friendship to seem more natural. Scenes of Alan and Charlie at Mel Brooks films or at Chinese restaurants may seem disparate, but they’re unified by the film’s themes.
So, despite a few events toward the end that seem a bit too pat, the film’s overarching portrait of two men slowly coming to terms with themselves and the world is a moving success.
Movie reviewer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.