Mike Bender is not interested in making films for other people. The writer/director of “Reign Over Me” is one of a handful of filmmakers who make films almost as therapy for themselves. In “Reign Over Me,” he fashions a character dealing with the profound effect of having lost his family in one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th. Undoubtedly risky territory, but Bender keeps his film genuine and respectful.
The story takes off when simple family man, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) has an unlikely run-in with his old dental school roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). It’s apparent very early on that something isn’t right with Charlie. He seems disconnected from, well, everything; everything except for music, video games and Chinese food that is. As Alan and Charlie become ol’ pals again, Alan’s rightful concerns start to plague him-eventually pushing him to try and help a man who not only doesn’t want to be helped, but doesn’t even want the memories of his lost family.
Bender’s writing, in the same vein as the wonderful “The Upside of Anger,” is quite comical and poignant, but is often riddled with distracting contrivances. And while the film is funny-sometimes considerably-the humor often feels intrusive and unwelcome in a movie that’s trying to make a sensible commentary on a broken man who’s lost his family to one of the great tragedies of our time.
Performance wise, the film is on cloud nine. Everyone from Cheadle to Sandler to Jada Pinkett Smith (who plays Cheadle’s house wife) to Liv Tyler (Alan’s therapist) give it their all. “Reign Over Me” is clearly a movie that everyone involved cared for and put their best into. And for the most part, it comes across.
Danny Gordon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.