Part of me wants to acknowledge that perhaps Sandler is woefully oblivious of the talent he possesses and is just a guy who doesn’t appreciate the potential to deliver great dramatic tales. But watching “Reign Over Me” confirms that he’s likely very aware of the talent he possesses and instead just chooses to have fun with a horrible comedy every once and a while. And I can respect that. Even if I’ll take “Reign Over Me” over “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” any day of the week. Only one in the growing number of dramas specifically geared toward men, “Reign Over Me” is that middle of the roads melodrama that explores how grief and loss can often control the way we live.
It also shows how many times losing the ones we love can lead us into a path that we can never get out of, even if we have a base of friends and family devoted to our best interests. Director-Writer Mike Binder poses a wonderful dichotomy between the two men here who cross paths one day after Alan Johnson (Cheadle) recognizes Charlie (Sandler) on the street. After the fated crossing of paths occurs twice, Alan insinuates himself into Charlie’s life with the self-important intention to rescue him from the almost catatonic juvenile state he’s steeped in which revolves around video games, loss of memory, and a devotion to music. While the undertones of 9/11 keep Charlie an incredibly deep and tragic figure in the story, the real plot is focused on both gentlemen who are at a point in their lives where they covet each other.
Alan is a man with everything to lose who is constantly approached by gorgeous women seeking him as a conquest. And in a way the temptation is almost so overwhelming he resists it with an aggression that shows a knowing in him that he may eventually slip up and give in. Alan is a man who may not enjoy being a family man. Charlie provides him with an excuse to dodge responsibilities and family life doldrums to escape into Charlie’s carefree world, which wife Janeane (Pinkett Smith) catches on to almost instantly. His pretense at first is to live Charlie’s almost boundless life of late night movies, and bars, but Charlie soon displays how truly miserable he is and his apathetic reaction to a tragedy in Alan’s life shows that the grass is almost always greener. “Reign Over Me” has every chance to be manipulative and cheap, but it’s thankfully subtle in its struggles of Charlie to come to grips with his family dying in one of the ill-fated planes during 9/11.
Alan gains a purpose to dig this man out of his rut and finally bring him to a point where he can exist among normal society. Cheadle is strong as the mild mannered dentist who finds himself near middle aged and not enjoying his current life, while Sandler is fantastic as this spastic, almost hopeless shell incapable of moving on with his life as he clings to the threads of his daughters and beloved wife. Binder has the foresight to end the movie on a simple scene rather than draw it out, and it helps pace “Reign Over Me” along as a rather good drama about family, and dealing with terrible loss in a senseless tragedy. I had zero expectations for Sandler’s dramatic effort, and that’s likely why I enjoyed “Reign Over Me” so much. It’s a gripping and very sad glimpse at grief and it’s lasting effects on us when we truly lose something we cherish.