Against all odds

Starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith and Liv Tyler. Directed by Mike Binder.
Rated 4.0

Here we have it: A movie starring Adam Sandler as a 9/11 widower who needs to get his life back together. I don’t think I was alone in expecting the worst. There are so many things that could have gone wrong—Sandler could have brought too much Billy Madison to the table, the 9/11 thing could have been overplayed, the whole movie could have been an overdramatic ploy for tears and box-office bucks.

But, surprisingly, none of those things happened.

Sandler made his dramatic debut a few years back in Punch Drunk Love, but he’s done so many stupid movies that it’s still hard to believe he can be serious. Well, he once again proves his acting chops here, as Charlie Fineman, whose wife and three daughters were killed on Sept. 11. Post-traumatic stress disorder leaves him a little kooky—he carries his iPod with him everywhere, his shaggy hair rendering him a bit Bob Dylan-esque, and is prone to paranoid outbursts and even violence. He has given up his past—including his in-laws and the color of his kitchen—in favor of things that don’t remind him of his loss.

That all changes one day when Charlie runs into Alan Johnson (the practically perfect Don Cheadle), his old college roommate. What ensues is a friendship between Alan, a family man and dentist who has a few troubles of his own, and Charlie, who at the outset doesn’t even remember his old buddy. Charlie and Alan form a bond—they laugh, fight and even cry—that not many straight men are able (or asked) to portray in the movies.

Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger), who wrote, directed and played the small part of Charlie’s financial adviser in Reign Over Me, asked a lot of this film—after all, it touches at the core of human emotions. And though he’s a bit long-winded, he pulls it off with a strong cast, a script that teeters seamlessly between drama and comedy and a killer flashback soundtrack that often plays softly in the background while still giving a hint as to the mood.

Reign Over Me could have been horrible, but instead it is a touching, real and original look at what grief can do to a person and how opening yourself up is easier said than done.