Not just another movie depicting the tragedy of September 11, 2001, “Reign Over Me” is more of a celebration of life or lack thereof. Thrown into the complex psychological world of his old college roommate Charlie Fienman (played by Adam Sandler) New York dentist Alan Johnson (played by Don Cheadle) finds himself becoming lost in Charlie’s world of selective memory and avoidance of loss. With stellar performances from both Cheadle and Sandler, “Reign Over Me” is quite a role reversal for the two actors. While one expects Cheadle to be able to handle himself amiably within a dramatic role tackling quite serious issues, (i.e. his role in “Hotel Rwanda”) he actually offers quite a bit of comic relief throughout the film. It is Sandler who provides the majority of the intensely dramatic scenes. Within many of these, those of us who grew up with “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” Sandler flicks can revel in the knowledge that this comedic actor we all grew up loving has successfully proven himself within his profession. Beginning with “Punch-Drunk Love,” it seemed Sandler was reaching for something more in his career, but unfortunately in that film couldn’t find the healthiest mix between what he is great at and what he was aspiring to be. However, in this movie he finds this medium as his character Charlie finds himself.
Beginning with a chance meeting between Alan and Charlie (who doesn’t remember Alan at all) the two begin to bond and spend more and more time with one another. As this relationship progresses, the viewer gets tiny glimmers of hope that as they go from acquaintances to friends. Alan will ultimately be the one to help Charlie. Yet, with every step forward Alan undoubtedly will say or do some seemingly insignificant thing to set Charlie off, sending him into a rage or outburst of sorts making any chance at helping him disappear. Still, since Alan is the only person whom Charlie trusts and believes will just let him be he always comes back to him. He is always apologetic and one instance tries to give Alan $1 million when his father dies and Charlie shows no signs of compassion upon hearing the news.
It is after this incident and one failed attempt at seeking psychological care for him by the young psychologist, Angela (played by Liv Tyler), that Alan decides Charlie truly does need help. Week after week Charlie cuts their sessions short as Angela tries to get him to open up about his family and his feelings about the events that have eternally separated them. However, one day as she is beginning to become visibly frustrated with the situation Angela explains to Charlie, that even if it’s not to her, he must tell his story to someone. As he walks out of yet another session Charlie sees Alan, who is always waiting for him during these meetings, sits next to him and in one of the most emotional scenes in the movie relays his story to him. Though this is an obvious leap forward Charlie is far from okay and by the end the audience finds him on trial with his fate hanging in the only family he has left, his deceased wife’s parents, whom he has avoided contact with since her death.
With an excellent cast and some very standout performances, “Reign Over Me” is a very touching and character driven movie. However, I found it to be a bit airy with a few themes throughout either being rushed or left unsaid. On the whole I enjoyed the movie but expected a bit more from it for some reason; perhaps because of its incredible soundtrack. On the whole, this film deserves an 8 and recommendation as a rental if you don’t catch it in theatres.