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Reign Over Me

Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind The Scenes Featurette; Extended Jam Session with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle; Photo Montage.

ADAM Sandler may not seem like an obvious choice to play a man struggling to come to terms with the loss of his family on September 11, 2001, but he rises to the challenge impressively in Mike Binder’s deeply moving drama.

As Charlie Fineman, a former dentist now living a reclusive existence, he delivers a sensitive portrayal of a man torn apart by anger and grief, who has shunned all reminders of his past life in favour of playing games in his apartment and travelling the streets on a motorised scooter while listening to classic ’70s rock on his headphones.

Though deeply traumatised, Charlie refuses to interact with anyone who reminds him of his family until he meets an old friend, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), who resolves to help him confront his grief.

For Alan, Charlie’s predicament offers him a respite from his own personal problems, which include a harassment case at work and an inability to communicate with his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith).

But once undertaken, the task of rehabilitating Charlie proves harder than it seems and leads to life-altering consequences for everyone involved.

Given the sensitive nature of its material it would have been easy for Reign Over Me to become an overly sentimental affair.

But Binder, who wrote the screenplay as well as directs, avoids such pitfalls to create a genuinely involving experience that amuses, touches and provokes intelligent conversation afterwards. It may be one of the first films to deal with 9/11 on a fictional basis but it addresses an issue that remains painfully real.

Binder, perhaps wisely, slow builds to the revelation that Fineman’s loss stems from that day, opting to put the characters first and really build our empathy towards them. As a result, the impact of Fineman’s breakthrough moment is more heartfelt.

Sandler is excellent, channelling his trademark angry persona into something much deeper and more meaningful, and building on the good work he has previously done in roles such as Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish. But he also has an outstanding co-star in Cheadle, whose own story arc makes for compelling viewing without ever feeling like a diversion from the main thrust of the tale. Viewers share both men’s tears and laughter.

Pinkett Smith also excels as Cheadle’s wife, helping to create a believable tension in their relationship, while there’s strong support from Saffron Burrows, as an unhinged patient, and Donald Sutherland, as a judge.

There are imperfections, of course, such as a courtroom finale that could be perceived as a slightly desperate attempt to round things up, and some scenes and behaviour that don’t always ring true.

But it’s the power of the performances you’ll remember and which ensure that Reign Over Me is as emotionally rewarding as it is enriching. You’ll want to hug the one you love afterwards.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 4mins