Reign Over Me, starring Adam Chandler and Don Cheadle, directed by Mike Binder, 124 minutes, now available on DVD.
Reign Over Me is my favorite film so far in 2007. Powerful, haunting, touching and profoundly moving, the film is a testament both to the power of friendship and also to the extraordinary healing potential of the human heart.
This film was written and directed by Mike Binder, who also wrote and directed another brilliant and under-appreciated film a couple of years ago entitled The Upside of Anger. In both films, Mr. Binder shows enormous understanding and compassion for people in crisis, and his characters beautifully portray the emotions that so many of us experience but are so rarely shown with such soul.
The story revolves around former college roommates Charlie Fineman and Alan Johnson who both went on to become dentists. Both also married, began raising families and then somewhat lost track of each other. There, the similarities of their lives ended. Charlie’s wife, three daughters and even the family dog were aboard one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. In an instant, Charlie lost his entire world. Traumatized, he quit not only his practice but also his connection with everyone in his life. Alan, whose family life is much more stable, nonetheless feels unsettled and alienated from his wife. He had tried to reach Charlie when he read of the 9/11 tragedy, but could not find him until, by "chance," he sees Charlie ride by him one night on a scooter. When he runs to catch up, he is stunned to see the deterioration in his old friend, and even more shocked when Charlie does not seem to even remember him. That encounter is the catalyst for the rest of the film, wherein Alan befriends Charlie and tries to help him reconnect with life itself.
Unfortunately, Reign Over Me did not do well at the box office when it opened theatrically in February of 2007. The subject matter may indeed have distanced some people from going to the theaters. The fact that Adam Sandler plays Charlie Fineman may have misled people about the tenor of the film. If so, that would be a true disservice to Sandler’s transcendent performance. He plays Charlie with heartbreaking tenderness and vulnerability. Many people are, however, only accustomed to Sandler playing broad comedies. In that regard, the situation with Reign bears some eerie similarities to two other recent movies with the same challenges: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind starred Jim Carrey, who also gave a magnificent performance in a dramatic film when people were more accustomed to seeing him in broad comedies; Stranger Than Fiction starred Will Ferrell. Both films were brilliant and both underperformed with both critics and at the box office. Great comic actors such as Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis, and, more recently, Tom Hanks, Sandler, Carrey and Ferrell, often are just as brilliant, or even more so, in straight dramatic roles.
The challenge of healing our own hearts is at the very epicenter of the soul of Reign Over Me. Charlie is so lost in his own grief that he has consciously tried to disconnect himself from his own feelings and even his memories. Alan is also disconnected from his daily life and sees in Charlie the opportunity to heal a friend and in so doing heal himself. As with most of us, it’s so much easier to see someone else’s problems than it is to see our own, isn’t it? However, when we deny those feelings, they don’t disappear. We simply shove them into what Carl Jung first called "the shadow" of our being. When that shadow side "gets full" (often the onset of a middle-age crisis), those feelings are often then projected onto others around us so that we eventually have no choice other then to face them in ourselves. (A spiritual teacher once said that our souls do not want us to have to learn from pain but we often are so blind to the other, more gentle pathways that our souls illuminate, that pain winds up being the soul’s court of last resort.) For Charlie and Alan, they help each other and, in so doing, heal themselves.
Brilliantly written, directed and acted, Reign Over Me is a film that will resonate in my heart forever.