Eye For Film >> Movies >> Reign Over Me (2007) Film Review
Don Cheadle as Alan, a quietly frustrated dentist approaching a mid-life crisis; Adam Sandler as Charlie, the college friend who has lost his mind after losing his family in the 9/11 attacks. A story about friendship and healing which carries us through a series of computer gaming sessions, visits to the psychiatrist and journeys around New York by scooter. It might not sound like a recipe for a thrilling movie, but Reign Over Me is something quite out of the ordinary. Building up slowly with a series of character-focused vignettes, it tells the sort of New York story for which we used to depend on Woody Allen, and it tells it with conviction.
The key to this is Adam Sandler's performance. With his fondness for wacky comedies, he has been consistently underrated as an actor, but here he turns in one of the most convincing portraits of a mentally ill person seen on our screens for years. With the same edginess he brought to Punch-Drunk Love, he veers between eccentric-but-loveable and out-of-control, smashing things up and pinning his friend to walls. Sandler resists the temptation to overemote and instead delivers all this in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way which is not only more realistic but makes it easier for us to understand his internal logic and sympathise with the terrible pressure Charlie faces. He is far more than just the wild card helping Alan to rediscover the joys of letting go, and he's more than just an object of pity. He has a narrative of his own, well balanced within the story, and we see the tremendous strength he has required just to survive. The story neither patronises nor sanctifies him, acknowledging the very real problems caused by his illness but presenting him as a character who is interesting in his own right.
Alongside this, Cheadle's performance is necessarily understated but nevertheless solid. Alan's journey might appear to follow the conventional route of a middle-aged man itching for freedom, but it's really much more about him learning to enjoy what he's already got. There are also surprisingly impressive turns from Liv Tyler as his psychiatrist friend and from Saffron Burrows as a destructively unhinged young woman who, rather than becoming a focus for anger as might be more usual in such a tale, is allowed to find her own form of redemption. The accomplished supporting cast are all on great form and the whole has a richness and believability which is missing from far too many dramas of this sort. It's also shot through with sly observational humour which makes it surprisingly good fun to watch, despite its often grim subject matter. Some might find it slow or heavy going in places, but its rewards patient viewing. Overall, it's gently positive and humane, intelligent and witty, and a great piece of film-making.Reviewed on: 16 Apr 2007