Capone Mulls Sandler's Post 9/11 Angst & The Awesome Use Of Springsteen Music In REIGN OVER ME!!
Published at: March 23, 2007, 12:57 p.m. CST by merrick
Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here with my review of one of the week's big question-mark releases, one I think a lot of people are even hesitant to even consider being something of quality. Prepare for a bit of a shock.
I'm always been ambivalent about the works of writer-director-actor Mike Binder. While I was a big fan of his last theatrical release, 2005's The Upside of Anger, the film he made after that, Man About Town starring Ben Affleck, went straight to DVD. One of his early works was the terrible Damon Wayons superhero comedy Blankman, and if you ever saw it, you probably still have the scars. But with his latest, Reign Over Me, Binder shows a maturity and sophistication that has been largely untapped with his projects so far, with the exception of Anger. As with that well-done film, his new one deals with a family broken by unexpected loss. And who better to convey a man's shattered soul and mind after a terrible tragedy destroys his life than Adam Sandler?
It's a serious question, because after seeing Reign Over Me, I can't think of anybody who could have pulled this off better than the man who wrote "The Hanukkah Song" and "Red-Hooded Sweatshirt." What Sandler achieves with his portrayal of Charlie Fineman, a New York City dentist whose wife and young daughters were on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, calls on the actor to be childlike, aggressive, violent, distraught, suicidal, patient and impatient, sometimes in the space of just a few minutes. It is by far the finest acting Sandler has ever put forth, and it marks a turning point in his abilities that was only hinted at in Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish, two films I hold dear to my heart.
Also on hand giving it everything he has is Sandler's co-star Don Cheadle, who plays Charlie's dental school roommate Alan Johnson, who, until 9/11, led an almost parallel great life to his friend's. Alan has leads a successful dental practice, makes a lot of money, has a lovely wife (a nice, dialed-down performance by Jada Pinkett Smith) and great kids. He even has female patients hitting on him, one of which (played by Saffron Burrows) offers to give him oral favors just for being a nice guy.
And while Charlie's story is the focal point of the plot, it is Alan who serves as the moral center of the film. When the two run into each other on the street after many years of not seeing each other, it sets off a chain reaction of events that change both of their lives and reveals some deeply buried truths about both men. Charlie has lost his mind. He has totally driven every memory of his family life from his mind, and if you ask him about it, he flips out, breaks things, and becomes paranoid that you are trying to analyze him or have him committed. He has abandoned his dental practice, received a great deal of money from insurance, and spends most of his time at home playing video games, eating, and attempting to complete the years-in-the-making renovation of his kitchen (a project his late wife had mentioned the last time they spoke). When he does go out, he tools around the city on his motorized scooter with headphones on listening to mostly anthemic '70s rock tunes.
As Alan spends more time with his old friend in an effort to help the man come back to the real world, he grows envious of Charlie's freedom and fearful of his explosive tendencies, both of which cause tension in his household as Alan begins to realize that his life is so sternly managed and routine driven that he has no time for spontaneous fun. Cheadle's is the more stealthy and subtle performance, and one gets a special thrill watching these two actors navigate around and through each other. As if we need more reasons to love Liv Tyler, she is on hand to play a psychiatrist friend of Alan's whom he enlists to help with Charlie's slow and difficult return to normal and functional. When Charlie's in-laws (Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon) attempt to have him committed after years of attempting to connect with him, the real world comes crashing down on Charlie and Alan's heads.
Reign Over Me doesn't have villains, but that doesn't keep it from having high drama. Having Sandler on board does offer the film a few much-needed moments of levity, but this is no cutesy mental illness flick with watered-down versions of true emotional damage and easy solutions. The movie is as much Alan's struggle as Charlie's. And as hard as it is to believe that you could ever feel sorry for a successful dentist, Cheadle makes Alan's efforts to reconnect with what made him enjoy life when he was younger.
One facet of the film that many people will probably discuss is the outstanding soundtrack. In addition to The Who song "Love, Reign O'er Me" that gives the film its title (there's also a beautiful closing credit version by Pearl Jam), the movie has what I believe is the greatest use of Bruce Springsteen music in film history. There's an unforgettable sequence that serves as the emotional epicenter of the film in which Charlie's iPod headphones are around his neck. You can heard Springsteen's "Drive All Night" bleeding through the headphones and into the scene, serving as the in-the-moment music for this devastating exchange between the two old friends. I'll admit, I got a little choked up.
Reign Over Me has its flaws. It feel long at times and has about three endings too many, the last of which feel slightly tacked on to make us a little more certain that Charlie is in a good place as we prepare to leave him. But in a film filled with such heart-wrenching emotional wreckage, a neat and tidy ending isn't such a terrible thing. It seems every year around this time, something like this completely satisfying movie slips out in the month of March and really takes me by surprise with its honesty and commitment to entertaining grown-up folks. This one is going to hit you hard and take you by surprise; my favorite combination.