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Reign Over Me (2007)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/9/2007

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/09/2007

As a DVD critic, I'm often faced with a stack of movies to watch. (I know, waa-waa, what a horrible life...) Thus, when deciding what to view next, movies often have to jump out at me. Reign Over Me wasn't doing that, as the trailer made the film look like a depress-fest. However, I did note that the movie was directed and written by Mike Binder, who is a childhood friend of one of my favorite directors, Sam Raimi. Any friend of Raimi's is a friend of mine, so I decided to give Reign Over Me a whirl.

Don Cheadle stars in Reign Over Me as Manhattan dentist Alan Johnson. Alan is married to Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith) and they have two daughters. His dental practice is quite successful and he even has patients hitting on him. Yet, Alan feels very stuck in his life. One day, Alan spots his college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) on the street. Alan approaches Charlie, but the unkempt Charlie acts bewildered, as if he doesn't know Alan. This startle Alan, but he's unphased and insists on talking to Charlie, who though aloof, agrees to talk. After encountering Charlie a few more times, Alan learns that Charlie's wife and three daughters (and the family dog!) were killed in one of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001. Once a dentist and family man, all that Charlie does now is play PlayStation 2, remodel his kitchen, collect vinyl records and play drums in an aggressive punk rock band. He has little connection to the outside world. Seeing that this man is hurting, Alan decides to help Charlie. But, he soon learns that Charlie's situation goes beyond mere sadness.

Well, as predicted, Reign Over Me is certainly a depressing movie. The film deals with several serious topics, the two main ones being grief & loss and general unhappiness. However, the movie shouldn't be categorized as focusing on September 11th, as it doesn't. That event isn't mentioned until late in the movie and it only serves as the origin of Charlie's grief. No, Reign Over Me is a true character study, as it follows two men who had been on similar life paths, loss touch with one another, and then reconnected, only to find that each is having their own issues. Of course, Alan's feelings of being smothered in his marriage don't compare to Charlie's loss, and this helps Alan to re-focus his priorities. For Charlie, who has shut out the world (literally, as he always wears headphones), Alan is safe because he never knew Charlie's family and thus isn't loaded with memories which could be painful for Charlie.

Yes, Binder has chosen to tackle a great deal of serious issues with Reign Over Me and quickly becomes evident that he's bitten off more than he can chew. A movie about a guy who lost his entire family would have been enough, but he piles on Alan's marital problems, Alan's sexual harassment lawsuit, Charlie's in-laws, and more. Then we have the fact that not only is Charlie depressed and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, who can also be wildly violent and paranoid. Binder combines this glut of subplots with a sluggish pace. At one point, I checked the time and couldn't believe that I was only 50 minutes into the movie. Two hours isn't an unheard of running time for a drama, but Binder allows the story to progress too slowly, and as it does, he introduces too many new characters and storylines. This makes the film feel very inconsistent. It wants to be an emotional roller coaster, but the ride breaks down every few minutes and we have to wait for it to be fixed so that it can get going again.

I also had issues with the characters in the film, although this may have more to do with the acting. At times, Sandler's portrayal of someone who has undergone a severe trauma and is repressing memories feels accurate. However, there are some scenes where Charlie seems to be mentally disabled. There are also moments where his sudden lucidity doesn't seem genuine. No matter what, Charlie is a challenging character to like, as he comes across as a jerk in some scenes. Sandler's natural charm does help to buffer these moments. Cheadle's performance is solid, but it's a bit too subtle at times. We know that Alan is a man who feels stifled at home and at work, but Cheadle never lets go of that, save for one scene. This make Alan somewhat unlikable. The one steady performance in the film comes from Liv Tyler, who plays a psychiatrist. Her calm demeanor plays well against the energy of Cheadle and Sandler.

Reign Over Me is one of those films that I hate to dislike. The movie is filled with important, topical issues and features many well-known actors (including Ted Raimi). It's clear that writer/director Mike Binder put a lot of heart and work into the movie. And yet, the film is never engaging, and often keeps the viewer at a distance. Combined with the sluggish pacing, Reign Over Me reveals itself to be a movie which wants to overwhelm the audience with emotion, but in the end, simply isn't entertaining.

Reign Over Me just wants to forget about DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The movie was shot using the Panavision Genesis HD camera, so grain and source-material defects are kept to a bare minimum. The image is sharp and clear. The colors look very good. When compared to the Blu-ray (see below), the image is somewhat lacking in detail, but there are no overt problems here. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some nice stereo and surround effects from street noise, and the scene with Charlie's band provides a nice amount of bass response.

The Reign Over Me DVD is surprisingly shorn of extras. "Behind the Reign" (17 minutes) is essentially an interview with Mike Binder as he describes every facet of the film, from the origin of the idea to the casting to the production in New York City. "Jam Session with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle" (5 minutes) features a brief intro from the duo (clearly taken from a press junket) and then we are treated to Cheadle on bass and Sandler on acoustic guitar. The only other extra is "A Still Reign", which is a still gallery set to music.

Reign Over Me is also being released on Blu-ray Disc. The disc features a 1080p HD AVC transfer where the film is letterboxed at 2.40:1. Again, the is an HD production, so the image looks very good here, save for a few shots which are noticeably grainy. (Did they switch to film for those shots?) Otherwise, the image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Being a drama, there aren't a lot of "whizz-bang" scenes, but the image has a nice depth and the exterior shots look especially good. I noted no overt distortion or video noise. The Blu-ray Disc carries a Linear PCM 5.1 audio track which runs at 4.6 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The street sounds really come to life as the audio is incredibly detailed and we can hear every subtle noise. There stereo effects in these scenes are good and we are treated to some surround sound action here as well. There isn't a great deal of bass response, but that's to be expected. The extras on the Blu-ray are identical to those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long