Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dear Jeremy Roush, (Reign Over Me)

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(WARNING - Although Reign Over Me is not a film with "twists" or suspense, this post does discuss several specific plot points.)

So a couple of weeks ago I was wondering here whether or not Mike Binder's Reign Over Me would be worth seeing. You chimed in in the comments in support of the film, and with a couple of mouse clicks I discovered that you in fact were one of two editors on the film.

I appreciate your enthusiasm and as I said before I'll be more than happy to announce here whether or not my expectations were exceeded. And to a degree they were. There's a sobriety to Reign Over Me that suits the story of Charlie (Adam Sandler), a man whose wife and children were killed on 9/11. Charlie survives on a government payout and insurance money, and his existence consists primarily of riding through the streets of NYC on his scooter, playing video games, and listening to music through his ever-present headphones.

Through a good chunk of Reign Over Me I didn't have the slightest belief that Charlie was experiencing soul-shattering loss or post-traumatic stress. That's because quite a bit of Charlie's behavior happens to coincide with a tamped-down version of Adam Sandler's comic persona. Charlie relates to other adults the way Sandler does in his comic films, which is to say like a man with a severe case of arrested emotional development. Binder's script allows Charlie plenty of time to tease his old roommate Alan (Don Cheadle) about a sexually aggressive patient (Saffron Burrows), debate the merits of Springsteen and the Pretenders, and eat copious amounts of takeout. That's all when he's not throwing a hissy fit every time someone tries to help him move beyond what's happened to his family.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBUT, things change in a scene at the office of a doctor (Liv Tyler) that Charlie finally agrees to see. Charlie describes his family life in a long monologue which I'll freely admit Sandler performs brilliantly. It's certainly his best moment ever on screen and indicates surprising new career paths for the actor. Sandler pulls off a couple of other great moments, including a confrontation with two cops that's the film's strongest set piece.

I really began to feel for Charlie at this point, but I don't know that Mike Binder does him any favors. Charlie is left only slightly more self-aware than when things began; I won't go into the particulars, judge for yourself whether this guy shouldn't be in a hospital. I'd also add that Reign Over Me doesn't seriously address the process of recovery from grief. Tyler's therapist character might as well recite the lyrics to Springsteen's "The River" (an album referenced in the movie) for all the good she does for Charlie.

What's the verdict? Reign Over Me is the work of a maturing filmmaker, but I wonder where Binder can go with the subject of male uncommunicativeness and immaturity. (Recall Costner's drunken baseball player in Binder's The Upside of Anger). See it for Sandler and Cheadle (who displays a previously unseen harried side), the rest is worth it.


Jeremy Roush said...

Its funny to be summoned across the internet... :)

Its hard to respond to your review, as you seem to appreciate what Reign offers, but sum it up as "the work of a maturing filmmaker".

Charlie takes the only first step a person with PTSD can take: when he tells Alan what happened to his family, its literally the first time he's spoken of it since 9/11. Charlie has been shaken out of his rut, and just starting down the path to recovery almost kills him.

That recovery will be a slow process, and most likely Charlie will never fully recover. Thus the film doesn't end with Charlie getting a haircut and going to Yankee's game with his new girlfriend, but instead we get just a glimmer of uncertain, unglossy hope from the real world.

That's not traditional "Hollywood Ending", but is that what you really wanted?

Simon Crowe said...

Hi, I'm glad you came back to this and responded.

You correctly point out that Reign Over Me avoids an "it's all good" tidy Hollywood ending. That's in it's favor, but I really think there is a point in the film where we lose track of what Charlie's going through.

He seems to have his big breakthrough in spite of the psychiatrist rather than because of her. We're not really sure where Charlie is in his journey, because all of a sudden we're seeing him through other points of view.

He goes through therapy when he's committed but we don't know what takes place in the session. Charlie becomes something to be fought over by his in-laws, the psychiatrist, and Alan. The courtroom scene is particularly poor, the attorney played by the guy from The Office carries on with behavior that I suspect wouldn't make it past the first draft of a L&O script.

To sum up, while there were things I liked about the film I did feel that Mr. Binder either reached a point where he didn't know what to do with Charlie except as he recould be used to help Alan solve his problems. I was (pleasantly) surprised by much of Reign Over Me, contrivance only creeps in those late scenes.