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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Reign Over Me
Reign Over Me
Sony Pictures // R // October 9, 2007
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Preston Jones | posted October 29, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

When it comes to the searing tragedies of September 11, filmmakers are becoming more emboldened with each passing year. The blunt shock of that awful day seems to have dissipated somewhat, and Hollywood is increasingly comfortable with the idea of using that fateful Tuesday morning as a backdrop for all manner of stories, be they fascinating or mundane.

Writer/director Mike Binder's frustratingly uneven Reign Over Me is such a work, one that mines the inherent pathos of 9/11 but can't resist the maudlin cliches that plague sentimental dramedies, indies or mainstream. You want for this film to hit you more squarely than it does, and it's hard to pinpoint specifically where Binder's piece goes off the rails.

Starring Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler (continuing his bid for dramatic legitmacy), the story is a simple one: Successful New York City dentist Alan Johnson (Cheadle) happens to see his college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Sandler) walking down the street one night. The pair don't re-connect immediately, but soon Alan and Charlie are speaking again, after an estrangement of some years. Alan knows that Charlie's entire family perished in the attacks of 9/11, but can't shake the feeling that he needs to help his friend shed some of his persistent grief.

Locked in a battle of intense emotions, Alan must also contend with balancing his work (and the occasional frivolous lawsuit) with his home life, particularly his suffocating wife Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith) and children. Charlie provides Alan with an outlet, an escape, a welcome respite despite Charlie's dense fog of despair. Together, the two men renew their friendship and help enlighten each other through cathartic bonding.

It'd be easy to heap the blame for Reign Over Me shortcomings at Sandler's feet, but the comedian acquits himself well, for the most part, burrowing into the role of a grieving widower with aplomb. Sure, he's saddled with some inane dialogue and forced to flash albums around as an excuse to wedge vintage rock songs into the soundtrack, but he fares well in the more emotional sequences. (Although his initial child-like weirdness might evoke Billy Madison too strongly for some.) Cheadle also does what he can with a mostly one-note role, although Pinkett Smith's underwritten part suffers more. Binder (who has a meaty cameo as Charlie's accountant, Bryan Sugarman) has stocked his film with a top-shelf cast -- in addition to Sandler, Cheadle and Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland, Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon and John de Lancie all pop up onscreen. It's a shame this overly earnest work strands many of them without much of interest to do.

Overlong by about 20 minutes, Reign Over Me will probably conclude a bit too ambiguously for some, but its conclusion is beside the point, since the emotional end to the story arrives several minutes earlier. For every poignant scene of character development and narrative continuance, there's another scene that stifles forward momentum (was the whole sexual harrassment lawsuit plotline necessary?).

Binder's focus is too diffuse; in wanting to capture the lives of several New Yorkers dealing with one man's 9/11-caused loss, he put too many people onscreen. At its heart, Reign Over Me is a spare tale of two men re-connecting and helping each other heal -- anything more is unnecessary.

The DVD

The Video:

Shot on the Panasonic Genesis HD camera, the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has an expected edginess to it that film lacks. That palpable digital texture lends itself to noticeable grain in the more lowly lit sequences, but in clear, brightly lit scenes, the sharpness and vivid colors are eye-popping. Yet aside from the occasional grain or barely perceptible motion blur, there's very little to complain about here. A mostly solid visual representation of recently filmed material.

The Audio:

Largely dialogue-driven (with the odd Who, Bruce Springsteen or Pretenders song tossed in for effect), the Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't get many chances to stretch, but instead conveys the often pained exchanges clearly and with no notable defects. Spanish, Thai and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are included, as is a French Dolby 2.0 stereo track and optional English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles.

The Extras:

A bit on the slender side: The four minute, 37 second featurette "Jam Session with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle" (presented in anamorphic widescreen with a fullscreen intro) is essentially deleted footage from a similar sequence in the finished film. The 16 minute, 50 second making-of featurette "Behind the Reign" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is standard issue EPK stuff; the five minute, 35 second "A Still Reign" is comprised of photos from the film set to snippets of Reign Over Me's score. Trailers for Click, Vantage Point, Spider-Man 3, 30 Days of Night, Sleuth, Superbad, Angel-A, Interview, Spanglish, The Company and Close Encounters of the Third Kind complete the disc.

Final Thoughts:

Writer/director Mike Binder's frustratingly uneven Reign Over Me is a work which mines the inherent pathos of 9/11 but can't resist the maudlin cliches that plague sentimental dramedies, indies or mainstream. You want for this film to hit you more squarely than it does, and it's hard to pinpoint specifically where Binder's piece goes off the rails. The film is worth spinning for the fitfully strong performances from Cheadle and Sandler, but it's a wobbly recommendation.

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