Reign Over Me (2007)

(Netflix Streaming, March 2016) Having inadvertently gone through most of Adam Sandler’s filmography in short succession (don’t ask why), I’ve been circling Reign over Me as a final pièce de resistance. After all, it’s often mentioned in the same breath as Punch Drunk Love and Funny People as the three movies showing Sandler’s range as a dramatic actor. Best to keep the best for last. As it turns out, the critics are right: While Reign Over Me isn’t a completely successful film, Sandler does get a good performance as a debilitated widower endlessly mourning his wife and daughters killed on 9/11. His aggressive man-child persona here comes across as pathological and off-putting, a cry for help that the film’s protagonist (Don Cheadle, as good as ever) seeks to answer even as he himself needs to change. Reign Over Me does overplay its melodrama at times, and doesn’t quite know what to do with its characters. (Sienna Miller’s character, in particular, feels like a punchline for too long in the middle of such a dramatic film, and one gets the sense that she ends up as a prize to be won.) There are tonal problems, the ending feels off in ways that don’t entirely satisfy and Sandler doesn’t get much to do other than mope and lash out in anger. Still, Reign Over Me often feels like a successful experiment. Even today, it’s one of the few Hollywood movies to use a specific videogame in a thematically appropriate fashion, and it has a dramatic weight that we don’t usually associate with Sandler. Congratulations to director Mike Binder for coaxing such a performance out of him and channelling his inner rage into a worthwhile character.

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