What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

19 Mar

In the years since 9/11 there have been only a handful of movies dealing directly with the subject.

Of those, most have dealt with the heroism and the survivors.

And of course, this leaves out a large number of people who also experienced the day, namely the families of those who died.

Well, with Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me, that void is over, and remarkably so.

Reign tells the story of Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful New York dentist, who by chance runs into his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). Fineman’s wife and three daughters all died on 9/11 and he has chosen to deal with the loss by not dealing with it at all.

Rather, in the five years since that fateful day, he has shut down both emotionally and physically; Charlie’s quit his job as a dentist, he ignores that he ever had a family, spends his life alone playing video games and cruising around the city on his motor bike, collects vinyl records, and turns his music up real loud to avoid dealing with difficult situations.

It’s a lonely, solitary life filled with pain and sadness.

But Johnson, who is married with two daughters of his own, admires one thing about Fineman: the fact that he lives a more carefree life now because he doesn’t dwell on the negative aspects.

So Johnson spends more time with Fineman, and begins to ignore the problems in his own marriage.

The movie brings these two old friends back together again without cliche, and examines the very real pain that Fineman chooses to ignore.

And as Fineman, Sandler is actually really good. Sure, he’s got a scene or two where his raised voice of anger makes you chuckle, but trust me on this one: in the past Sandler has made you laugh till you cried. Here he’ll make you cry real tears of sadness with no laughs.

What a surprisingly good performance. When Fineman finally breaks through the wall he’s built around himself, it’s stunning and not the least bit maudlin.

Still, the film belongs to Cheadle, who gives the less showy performance, but serves as the film’s anchor. Cheadle’s always good, but this is one of the best performances I’ve seen him give. I wish the film had come out closer to the end of the year because I’m afraid award voters will forget him nine months from now. It’s a fate Joan Allen suffered because The Upside of Anger had a similar release date two years ago.

It’s worth noting that the film has a great soundtrack, filled with classic songs by the Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, the Who (whose song “Love Reign O’er Me” gives the film its title; it’s covered by Pearl Jam over the closing credits).

And it’s also photographed at low, ground-level angles — no sweeping New York shots — all the better to show the life of this very real and all-too-common person as he struggles to survive in the Big City, where reminders of his family are all around.

There’s one really cool shot in particular of all the traffic lights on Park Ave. changing color at the same exact time.

If I had to complain about anything, it’d be two things: one, the length. Binder should have trimmed off about 15–20 minutes. It’s enough to make me consider lowering my grade.

And also, there’s an out there, only-in-the-movies subplot about a whack job patient of Johnson’s that is distracting and unbelievable.

But the truth is, I’m choosing to ignore these things because on the whole, I like the movie that much.

Binder has written an actor’s showcase here. In addition to Sandler and Cheadle, supporting actors like Liv Tyler and Jada Pinkett Smith also give very good performances.

I can’t really say enough how much I liked this film, so I hope y’all will go and see it and tell me you agree.

I’m giving Reign Over Me an A–.

2 Responses to “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?”


  1. Sad Clowns « Martin's Musings - December 19, 2012

    […] performance here. It’s not that Sandler can’t handle a more serious role (check out Reign Over Me or Punch-Drunk Love for proof of that), but he and Rogen and the rest of the cast just don’t […]

  2. Silky Smooth | Martin's Musings - October 25, 2019

    […] (His best movie, of course, was Reign Over Me.) […]

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