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Reign Over Me Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2008
ImageAlan Johnson (Don Cheadle) is a successful dentist with a respectable practice and a loving family, but lately he’s bothered by a growing sense of dissatisfaction and a feeling of restriction within his relationship with his wife, Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith). During his drive home one afternoon, he spots his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), on a Manhattan street. Alan’s attempts to get Charlie’s attention are unsuccessful.

Charlie lost his entire family on 9/11, as his wife, his two daughters and his dog were on one of the planes that crashed into the twin towers. Alan read about Charlie’s loss in the newspapers, but his attempts to track him down and offer his condolences failed. A few nights later, Alan spots Charlie again, zipping by on a motorized scooter and this time Alan manages to catch his attention. Alan finds that Charlie is in a deeply disturbed state— he’s nearly unable to remember their two years together as roommates, is unkempt, distanced and appears deeply damaged by shell shock.

Alan is able to make some headway with Charlie when he relates to him superficially on his somewhat regressed level, but any attempts to discuss Charlie’s family or mention his recent past causes him to become aggressive and violent. In addition, Charlie continually rebuffs attempts by his in-laws (Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon) to connect with him, preferring to live in a withdrawn state of denial. In spite of these hurdles, Alan takes it upon himself to try to get Charlie to see a therapist to try to bring him back to reality and help him find some degree of peace with the loss he has suffered and the grief he is blocking out. Charlie is able to make baby steps with Angela (Liv Tyler), a therapist who shares the building with Alan, but when he begins to open himself up to the real world, he switches off the video game he always plays and turns on the news. The non-stop coverage of the war rattles him, forcing him into an internal confrontation with his pain that sends him on a path seeking oblivion.
“Reign Over Me” is a gentle, refreshingly apolitical drama of deep pain and an almost inconceivable level of grief. Adam Sandler seems an odd choice for the role, but he turns in a fine dramatic performance. If anything weakens the performance, it is the baggage of other childlike (“Billy Madison”) and violent characters (”Happy Gilmore”) that Sandler has played in comedies, where one detects echoes of familiar speech patterns. Don Cheadle is terrific as Alan; the air of haunted sadness that Cheadle always seems to carry with him fits the character perfectly. Alan’s family relationship feels a bit underwritten— most of his interactions with his children and his father are in fairly brief scenes that don’t really register. The family feels as if it needs a more solid presence in the film than it currently has.

Mike Binder’s direction is sensitive and restrained— he resists the urge to overplay the most dramatic parts of the story and does the strongest emotional moments in quiet, gentle scenes. In the hands of a different director and composer, the emotional climaxes would be laid on much thicker than they are here, but Binder resists, steering Rolfe Kent to compose music with a softer, more tender feeling, which gives the film a consistent tone throughout. The title refers to the song, “Love, Reign o’er Me” from The Who which Charlie plays on the ever-present headphones he wears to block out the world.

Binder and director of photography Russ Alsobrook’s use of the 2.40:1 widescreen frame is richly satisfying. The framing harkens back to Columbia films from the ‘80’s such as “Tootsie” and “Ghostbusters,” which made full use of wide angle shots to convey a greater sense of space and gave the audience a more enveloping window into the story. We’re currently in an era of filmmaking that has minimized the use of the wide shot in favor of near constant medium and medium-close-up shots. The wide shot has most likely become a victim of the video age, where the home video release has become more important than the theatrical release, which has made directors design their films with an eye toward how they will look on television. Because the wide shot is now somewhat out of fashion, its recurring use in “Reign Over Me” gives the film a unique style and look; I believe the film should be shown to current directors and DPs to remind them of an aspect of film grammar that has been virtually lost. Perhaps a boom in high-definition media will inspire filmmakers to return to the wide angle shot, since the details in those shots would no longer be too small or indistinct on today’s larger 1080p televisions.

Ironically, the sumptuous ‘scope photography of “Reign Over Me” was not lensed in Anamorphic Panavision, nor on film, but on HD video, using the popular Genesis camera. The Blu-ray disc captures the look beautifully, with a rich, warm texture and accurate colors. The film begins with the most crisp, pristine rendition of the Columbia logo that I’ve ever seen. The predominance of wide shots makes a high-definition presentation of this film essential, and the BD’s resolution conveys an impressive level of fine detail and a rock-solid, stable image. The 5.1 PCM audio is a fine representation of a quiet sound mix. Stereo separation in the music is particularly strong in the front three channels and the dialogue is crisp and clean, with the volume set at a consistent level. The extras are almost non-existent. Included are one very brief featurette, with insightful comments by Mike Binder, a photo gallery montage, and an improvisatory jam session with Cheadle and Sandler, playing drums and guitar, in character, which is presented in high-definition. No trailers are included.

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