Reign Over Me Review

Film


In New York city a man loses his wife in a senseless and wanton act of barbarity. As a result of the trauma he folds in on himself into a fantasy world of his own making, a world from which he cannot emerge unaided. He is sustained in his quest to return to normality by a lesser-affected but similarly lost soul. This friend ultimately guides him towards facing the tragedy, finding love and building a new life.Yes, I thought it sounded familiar too.In 1990 Terry Gilliam managed to produce something quite magical from this plot, something whimsical, charming and romantic yet at the same time traumatic, disturbing and above all else highly intelligent. That little gem was called The Fisher King and has been cherished fondly by many film fans for the last 17 years.Reign Over Me mugs The Fisher King in a dark alleyway, stabs it in the back, tears the flesh from its story, straight from the bone and grafts it onto its own rotting carcass. They even shoehorned a John DeLancie cameo in there in case you possibly missed the point. The twist here however is that they actually uses a real life tragedy as the backdrop.

In this re-imagining of the same plot Adam Sandler plays Charlie Fineman, a man who loses his wife and three daughters to the events of 9/11. Fineman falls to pieces as a result and retreats to a world where he refuses to acknowledge that they ever existed. He listens to Bruce Springsteen loudly on his ipod whilst traversing the city on a motorised pedal scooter and mumbling incoherently to himself. Don Cheadle plays a former college room mate of Sandlers. When they reconnect Sandler considers him safe because he has no first hand knowledge of his wife and children, he simply knows that they perished in 9/11. Slowly Cheadle tries to get Sandler to open up and confront the tragedy. After a failed attempt to self-destruct Sandler ends up in hospital, his fate to be decided in court. He ultimately leaves court to start a new life with a hint of romance it would appear engineered or encouraged by Cheadle.Making a film can be like building a house of cards, each element has to be carefully arranged. The foundations of a good story and script require to be under pinned by a good director that understands and can creatively interpret the material. The producer has to assemble a creative support, a director of photography that can capture the director’s vision, a production designer that can give the film an identifiable look and feeling. Once this house of cards has been delicately, pain stakingly and nerve wrackingly put together, then the last cards have to be placed on top. The actors. They have to be carefully cast and placed on the structure with the hands of a surgeon, one false move and the house of cards may crumble into a scattered deck. In the case of Reign Over Me casting Adam Sandler is like building that house of cards in a wind tunnel. Sandler’s success thus far has relied on appealing to a wilful anti-intellectualism in American cinema. A career targeted cynically at either nine year old children or those whose higher functions have ceased operating. Each performance has been a redressing of exactly the same character, the idiot man-child. The performance is so honed, so perfected that you can almost set your watch to when his character will; make some hideous pratfall in public, shout uncontrollably like a petulant screaming teenager and then lower his voice for the all important quiet “emotional” scene.

What is so depressing (apart from the fact that his career continues to flourish in this arena) is that Sandler adopts this template to his “dramatic” performance as well. Once again he appears to be the idiot man child, once again he explodes into tirades of aggression and again we are presented with an unintentionally hysterical scene that we know is supposed to be emotional simply because he is whispering.Sandler obviously craves the critical kudos afforded other Saturday Night Live veterans who have gone on to dramatic roles such as Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell. Murphy and Martin it has to said have also regularly taken thirty pieces of silver to appear in lowest common denominator material, but unlike Sandler these performers have an infinitely deeper resource of talent and a greater self awareness of their own abilities. Sandler has neither.

Previously Sandler has worked successfully with Paul Thomas Anderson in a role that was hardly a stretch, but this was with a gifted director who curbed his worst excesses. In Reign Over Me he is working with Mike Binder, an actor/director more noted for his television work and here it shows painfully as he struggles to contain a larger canvas.

During Reign Over Me I count at least five scenes where my toes curled with embarrassment. The aforementioned “whispering scene” where Sandler’s character finally talks about his family is such a calamitous disaster it was as if the makers of Airplane had taken hold of the reigns. In the scene Sandler removes his headphones to finally talk to Don Cheadle about his family. Springsteen can be heard through the headphones as he recounts through his sobs who they were and what they meant to him. The emotion becomes too much and he runs out into the street as the camera cranes up and the music graduates from the headphones to the actual soundtrack at full volume. I nearly fell off the chair laughing. It was so crude, so clumsy, Oprah Winfrey herself should have hovered into frame with a microphone. It had everything but a flashing sign on screen screaming “Oscar Clip”. This is cynical, crass, vulgar and worst of all pompous paint by numbers film making at its worst. If you think that is bad just wait until the scene where Cheadle and Sandler go to an all night Mel Brooks retrospective, you know the kind of retrospective I’m talking about, the kind that only appear in movies, the kind of retrospective that exist purely so the director can say “Hey, loved your work in Young Frankenstein!” At this retrospective we the audience are treated to a master class in fake laughter, a sphincter clenching moment of such awfulness it is only eclipsed by the classic line Cheadle shouts down the phone to his wife “You gotta get down here and get some Mel, it’s crazy!”Cheadle is an immensely likeable talent whose only real mistake career wise has been to adopt a terrifying accent in Soderberghs’ Oceans films, but there is little here he can do to salvage his dignity. He is fighting an un-winnable war against a confused and indulgent script, a co-star who is delivering a one note performance and a director who is working under the delusion that he is up to the challenge of making anything other than a mawkishly inept television movie. Binder even has the vanity to cast himself in what must qualify as the most extraneous and superfluous supporting character of the year. You half expect Don Cheadle to break the fourth wall at some point, turn around and introduce Binder as the director of this fiasco.The supporting cast fair little better wasting the talents of Liv Tyler, Jada Pinket Smith and Saffron Burrows who is saddled with the most bizarre, borderline offensive and inane story arc to grace a film for quite some time. Of the three only Jada Pinkett Smith really tries hard to imbue her character with a realistic warmth and believability. Always an underrated performer and presence Pinkett Smith like most of the cast present here deserves better than this.
Reign Over Me fails so disastrously because it mistakes sentimentality for sentiment, it is the most manipulative and crudely executed example of emotional pornography I have had the misfortune to see in quite some time. The tone of the film is uneven and the shifts in gear to lighter supposedly funnier moments (trust me tumbleweeds roll by) are appallingly executed, I for one do not need the pseudo Rachmaninov minor piano chords to sign post the emotional content of the scene. The crime is compounded distastefully by the fact that they use a real human tragedy as a backdrop to this vanity project. The whole endeavour could have been at least a little more palatable if they had not chosen to hide behinds the skirts of a subject that for many is still ring fenced and untouchable. At one point during the film Donald Sutherland’s character utters the incredibly prophetic line “This is a mess!”. On the evidence I have to concur.

Presentation


IMAGE
Filmed using the genesis digital cameras the film demonstrates a very grainy texture in darker scenes in common with a lot of digitally shot films. Other than that the image is satisfactory presented as it is in 2.35:1 and encoded at 16:9. Being digitally shot I might have expected a crisper image but this is completely acceptable for a modern film.
AUDIO
Dolby 5.1. Given that music is heavily exploited in the film it is not surprising that the only time the mix is ever given a good workout is in the extended music sequences. Ambient noise is minimal but given that Sandler’s character mumbles for the duration of the film the dialogue is clear and crisp.

Extras

JAM SESSION WITH DON CHEADLE AND ADAM SANDLER 3.53 MINS
A painfully pointless extra that features the two leads jamming with each other, Cheadle on Bass and Sandler on guitar and vocals. As a guitar player this was excruciating to watch as the two struggle gamely with instruments that they have clearly only recently been introduced to.
BEHIND THE REIGN : 16.10 MINS
If you need proof of how deluded Mike Binder is about his writing and directing abilities then please jump straight to this extra. It is a saccharin dosed lovefest for all concerned, however from the portentous and pretentious sombre tone that is on display it becomes apparent that Binder is convinced that he has just completed his masterpiece, an emotional colossus that will come to define the very events of 9/11. Like many scenes in the film unintentionally hysterical.

A STILL REIGN : 5.23 MINS
An unremarkable selection of stills taken from the set scored to one of the songs from the film.

Overall


Reign Over Me is a deeply disappointing release made all the more frustrating for wasting a mostly talented cast on what could have been a promising premise. In terms of the disc a commentary at least would have been useful to untangle some of the mess here and to elucidate as to why they made the “creative” decisions that they did, as it is the extras here just serve to reinforce the negative feeling for this abysmal mediocrity. If it were not for the overtly smug and pompous tone of the feature I may have felt a little kinder towards this release but regrettably, it is to the 9/11 tragedy what Rambo III is to the conflict in Afghanistan and to be honest I think I am being generous.

Film
2 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
5 out of 10
Extras
2 out of 10
Overall

2

out of 10

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