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Movie Review: Reign Over Me

Reign Over Me
Written and directed by Mike Binder

Sometimes movies can be overlong and go all over the place and need an editor and for the most part, it gets the review it deserves.  No doubt as you read reviews for Reign Over Me, you’ll see a broad spectrum, probably bent towards the negative, as Mike Binder’s film is one of those frustrating experiences at the movies that has so much good going for it, but so many ideas should have been axed when he wrote the screenplay (or at the very least, realized as the director of the film that some things don’t work).  Binder is going to be taken to task for being indulgent.

Dentist Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) doesn’t quite have the perfect life: his colleagues in a practice he started don’t respect him, and he seems to be closing in on a potential turning point in a loving marriage with wife Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith).  Early on a gorgeous woman, Donna Remar (Saffron Burrows), comes in asking for a veneer but just wants to pleasure him.  He declines, obviously, but is unable to handle the situation in a way that gives him some respect.  He seems to have something on his mind, and every once in awhile he tracks down psychologist Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler) for advice outside her office; once again, handled the wrong way.

It’s here where he sees his old college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) driving around Manhattan on a motor scooter.  Fineman lost his wife and daughters on 9/11, and he is more than guarded about it, even to the point where he claims he doesn’t remember.  Charlie ever cautiously allows Alan to re-enter his life, but if there’s the slightest disagreement or mistrust, Charlie becomes prone to lashing out.  He refuses to speak to his in-laws (Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon) who are reaching out to him, because he doesn’t want to talk about his family.  Charlie and Alan hang out, go to bars, and especially play Shadow of the Colossus, but the relationship always seems tentative.

Ultimately, that means somehow Charlie has to break out of his shell with a lot of help from Alan, who also needs some new perspective.  Sounds like a simple movie problem, but there are so many scenes that could have been cut out.  There’s a really inessential courtroom scene at the end, and even though it’s the first appearance of Donald Sutherland, playing a judge, and The Office’s B.J. Novak, playing a lawyer, it should have been stricken from the record.  The whole thing with Alan and the lusty Donna Remar just seems out of place.  Remar shows up again and again throughout the story, first as a seductress, then as a troubled soul, then as someone who just wants to help, and it never seems right.

But all through most of this, I was held rapt.  Some movies just have that mood; it’s an odd studio film that feels like an indie.  You can’t not be entertained by Don Cheadle, he’s just a great actor.  And Sandler showed some dramatic chops with Punch Drunk Love a few years ago and even though this is a sort of variation on that character, only with shaggy, graying hair, he is mesmerizing.

I enjoyed it, but like I said, it’s far from great and much like this week’s Shooter, it’s hard to come up with an overall when so many things are good and bad about the picture.  Binder did the same thing with his last film, The Upside of Anger.  There just doesn’t seem to be an inner critic with this guy. 


Comment from KW
Time: March 23, 2007, 3:49 pm

Why am I always surprised when a movie with a promising idea or cast falls short? I bet it happens way more often than a movie with potential that hits a home run.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: March 23, 2007, 4:32 pm

More and more, I think great movies are a miracle. Almost any great movie you ever read about had incredible circumstances, whether it’s casting or some small decision that turned out to be huge. With so many movies being made and so many egos, I’m sure a great idea gets turned to mediocre or poor often. This movie is still good, but I think ego might have been the culprit in keeping it from being great.

Comment from Jonathan Watkins
Time: March 25, 2007, 7:58 pm

With as many people that work on a film, and all of the things that have to come together it’s amazing a movie ever gets made at all, and so the great ones seem to be huge flukes. It’s always been strange to me as well that films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Casablanca,” and “Psycho” were so poorly recieved by critics when they initially came out and are now heralded as classics. I’m always curious what films from our generation will do that. I guess “Office Space” and “Shawshank Redemption” are two that come to mind off the top of my head; even though “Shawshank” got nominated for Best Picture, it did terrible box office and got pretty bad reviews or at least fairly mediocre ones.

On the topic of this film, I actually went and saw it. And I pretty much agree; might have even liked it a little less. It’s one of those films where you just kind of leave the theater shrugging your shoulders thinking, I guess that was an okay film. And it wasn’t so much the preachiness factor or the cheese that was abundant, but the story itself just moved at such an odd pace. I don’t know, it seems like it should have just been a pretty straightforward film, but they tried to go a little too deep with it. Sometimes, you can just tell a good story; we don’t have to have all of this big build-up or scenes of schmaltz thrown at us like grenades; think “The Pursuit of Happyness” or “One True Thing” as examples of films that work for the simpleness that they display. I kind of went off on a rant there, hope that made sense.

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