Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reign Over Me Review

Director Mike Binder delivers an above-average portrayal of two normal men with two very familiar problems.

Recently, it seems as if every mainstream movie to hit theatres is about flamboyant superheroes, courageous Spartans, or smoking guns. Now, I love those films, and I'd be a hypocrite to criticize them, but sometimes I want something real. Something I'd experience in a restaurant or on a bus, not in a comic book. Reign Over Me fills that void. It fills it very well.

The film's protagonists are old college roommates Alan Johnson and Charlie Fineman who run into each other years after they've drifted apart. Don Cheadle (Crash, Hotel Rwanda) plays Johnson, a dentist living the American dream with a loving family waiting for him at home every night. Charlie Fineman is the opposite. Portrayed by Adam Sandler (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish), Fineman is a tortured soul who is still in a mess after losing his wife and kids in 9/11. The characters may seem extremely different, but they aren't. Both are men with problems having a hard time getting a grasp on their situations. The film deals with loss, the responsibility of relationships, and fighting against yourself to overcome your problems.

What I loved most about Reign Over Me are how the characters are handled in the film. No one is flat, not even the smallest of characters, everyone develops and is shown in neutral light, free from bias. Sure, there are a few characters, namely Fineman's in-laws, who are initially shown to be negative, but they escape from that before the film comes to an end. Writer and Director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger) really did a great job handling Fineman and Johnson. We experience a full range of their emotions and follow along with them, feeling for them when they are down and laughing along when they pick themselves up.

Another highlight of Reign Over Me is Binder's dialogue. It's smooth and flows well, always feeling natural. It packs a punch when it needs to and delivers comedy (free from one-liners) throughout. Laughs are something I didn't expect from this film. I thought it would be heavy and somewhat depressing, and some of its themes are, but there are many areas where I found myself laughing for the right reasons.

Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle do an excellent job in the film. Sandler's character is a bit on-edge. You're not sure how he'll react to certain things and feel as if his moods could swing at any moment. While Sandler is able to separate himself from normality in the role, he still manages to win over the audience and earn their compassion. Cheadle is also brilliant in the film. His character is impossible to hate. He consistently puts himself out on a limb to rescue Fineman and you want him to succeed. Johnson isn't flat though. It would be easy for Cheadle to play the nice guy with no repercussions but he doesn't, showing his weaknesses when needed, proving that he is in fact human. Liv Tyler, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Saffron Burrows play excellent supporting characters.

Something that really made me smile when watching Reign Over Me are the small parts given to Donald Sutherland, Ted Raimi, and B.J. Novak. Sutherland plays a hard-nosed judge, and does an excellent job standing his ground in the courtroom. Raimi plays a defense lawyer and, while he doesn't have many lines, I felt a giggle coming on whenever his face filled the frame (probably due to his work in Bruce Campbell's Man with the Screaming Brain, among others). B.J. Novak (of The Office fame) plays another lawyer and does a great job acting like a dick yet earning a bit of compassion from the audience.

One problem I did have with the film though was the ending. While I won't spoil it for anyone, I did feel that it dragged on a bit past its welcome and didn't fit onto the foundations Binder established in the first hour and a half of the film. The film takes a bit of a turn in the last half-hour and while it's not a plot-twist, the ending feels different than everything that came before it.

Another complaint, albeit a minor one, I had with Reign Over Me is the colour correction. There are a few shots that were really poorly handled by digital colourist Steven J. Scott as they stand out from the rest of the scene. For example, there's a scene where Johnson and Dr. Oakhurst (Liv Tyler) are sitting in the hospital. The entire scene has a neutral temperature, maybe it's a bit warm, but all of a sudden a shot with a blue hue is thrown into the mix. It wasn't a stylistic choice, believe me, just a poor colour correction job.

Overall I felt that Reign Over Me was a fairly good film. It's a fairly realistic yet entertaining look at people and their problems and how they eventually overcome them. It may not have caped crusaders or archatype heroes but it's an exciting film nonetheless.

One Sentence Review:
A good film that relies on its superb writing and fleshed-out characters to progress the plot.


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