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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Reign Man

Review of Reign Over Me, Irish Independent, April 20

Film-makers have only very recently begun to examine the ripple waves that the 9/11 terrorist attacks sent into the wider American culture and psyche. Whereas Oliver Stone's sentimental World Trade Centre and Paul Greengrass' astounding United 93 were based on the actual events of that day, Reign Over Me focuses on one man who lost everything in the atrocity and the long term effect it had on him.

Don Cheadle plays Alan Johnston, a successful dentist who is becoming increasingly suffocated by the reasonable but persistant demands of his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and children. One day, Alan randomly bumps into his old college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), whose wife and three daughters were on one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers.

Since then, Bob Dylan-lookalike Charlie, once a dentist also, has suffered a total mental breakdown due to post traumatic stress disorder, and spends his days drowning out the world with (admittedly excellent) music, playing videogames and spinning around Manhattan on his scooter. Charlie's regression into man-boy anaesthesia offers the buttoned-down Alan a chance to relive his frat days, before he sets about trying to get his disturbed friend to see a caring shrink (Liv Tyler) to deal with his grief.

Sandler demonstrated in Punch Drunk Love that he can ‘do’ serious and his patented infantile demeanour proves to be an effective entry point into Charlie’s profound trauma. In the pivotal scene where Charlie finally discusses what happened to his family, the actor is nothing short of extraordinary. Sandler and the always dependable Cheadle work well together, even when their chemistry is often forced to compensate for director Mike Binder's (The Upside of Anger) lack of pacing.

The real problem with Reign Over Me is that it’s as preoccupied with the modern masculinity crisis as it is 9/11. This would be fine if the two issues didn't mutate into a situation where Alan seems envious of Charlie's ‘freedom’. But Charlie's not free - his family were murdered in a terrorist attack! Does that mean Alan would be happier if he lost his wife and kids?

This tasteless dichotomy is just one of several off-key notes in an over-long film that, much like its central character, constantly finds ways of distracting itself from the fundamental issues.
Rating: 3/5
Declan Cashin

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