Reign Over Me
Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle give intense performances in Mike Binder’s beautiful and subtle ode to depression, “Reign Over Me”. And who would have thought that an Adam Sandler flick would bring a tear to my eye?
Charlie Fineman (Sandler) lost his family in the September 11 attacks, and has spent the last five and a half years grieving in his own way. One day his old college roommate, Alan Johnson (Cheadle), runs into him on the street and they start to reconnect. Though Charlie barely remembers Alan, they spend time together, with Alan using Charlie as an escape from his mundane life as a dentist and a married man. He eventually feels it necessary to get Charlie help, which he is reluctant to do. This culminates in a court case to determine what to do with Charlie.
Sandler has taken a crack at dramatic acting before in the little seen indie flick “Punch Drunk Love” and the even less seen major release film “Spanglish”, both to mixed reviews concerning his actual acting ability. But with “Reign Over Me”, he joins the ranks of fellow comedians turned dramatic actors, such as Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Robin Williams and Bill Murray for turning out an engaging, dramatic and completely award worthy performance. His trademark goofiness is what enhanced the weight of his performance.
Sure Binder could have gone with a known dramatic actor to play a man barely living with grief, but it’s Sandler’s comfort with comedy and uneasiness in drama that really makes Charlie a relatable and sympathetic character. You can see the man he used to be aching to get out, but it’s repressed by the intense emotions he’s experiencing. Anyone can act. It’s tough to make it look easy. Sandler makes it look easy. He captures the spirit and the look of depression and you can tell he understands. And then you understand what he’s going through.
Cheadle and the rest of the cast all lend a different perspective to the essence of Charlie. Alan knew Charlie before the attacks, but didn’t know anything about his wife or daughters, aside from what he read in the papers following the attacks. This is why Charlie attached himself to Alan. Alan is Charlie’s most visible support system. The chemistry between Cheadle and Sandler makes for a great cinematic pairing, and I hope it’s not just a one hit wonder for the two.
Donald Sutherland, B.J. Novak (“The Office”) and Liv Tyler in their respective supporting roles are particularly engaging in their own ways, each giving something for Sandler to bounce off of.
I’m quite fond Binder’s recent cinematic offerings. “The Upside of Anger” in 2005 was a hidden gem, and this is just a beautiful peace of work. He has this way of crafting what could otherwise be a conventional, archetypal story and turn it into something new and intriguing.
As a critic, there are certain things you’re fairly certain you’ll never do. When I started out, I was certain I’d never sing the praises of an Adam Sandler flick, let alone his performance in particular. I’m routinely impressed by performers I had originally written off, but who would have thought Sandler would turn out to be one of those performers? I didn’t. That’ll teach me to write them off.