Saturday, 22 November 2014

Reign Over Me (2007)

I'd normally take great pains to avoid an Adam Sandler movie but Reign Over Me from 2007 is not your typical Adam Sandler movie. As such, it's worth a watch.

The film is written and directed by Mike Binder and concerns dentist Alan Johnson, played by Don Cheadle, who spots his former college roommate Charlie Fineman (Sandler) out on the street one day, looking somewhat unkempt and preoccupied with his own thoughts. From this chance encounter it quickly transpires that Charlie is no longer a dentist and that his life has ground to a halt following the death of his wife and three young daughters, who were passengers on one of the hijacked airliners that crashed into the World Trade Centre on 9/11. Charlie is suffering from PTSD and has retreated into a private world of avoidance, numbing himself to the loss via computer games, music, Mel Brooks movies and comic books. Alan, a concerned friend despite having his own problems - which include being harassed by Saffron Burrows who wants to orally pleasure him and having a wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) who feels he's cutting her out of his life  - decides its time to help Charlie and arranges him to see a psychiatrist friend of his played by Liv Tyler.

It would be easy to dismiss Reign Over Me as nothing more than a dumb/zany comic performer's attempt to be taken seriously - a traditional path that has been taken by many a comic actor including Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and Jerry Lewis over the years. It would be just as easy to claim Reign Over Me, with its depiction of a mental health disorder brought on by America's greatest tragedy, was hurling itself at the Oscars. Combining these two cynical approaches and considering Sandler, dressed like a late 70s Dylan and displaying the obsessive compulsive muddled adolescence, to be imitating Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. But to approach the film so cynically would mean doing it a terrible disservice as Reign Over Me actually includes one of the best, most intelligent and sensitive depictions of PTSD I've witnessed.

PTSD is a terrible conditon which effects men and women in many different ways. In Charlie we witness clear examples of avoidance and numbing symptoms (as previously mentioned) as well as arousal symptoms; a sense of alertness that gives the sufferer an almost paranoid preoccupation with everyday exchanges leading to outbursts of anger over the most innocent remarks, as well as confusion and an inability to concentrate and focus. Having worked with PTSD sufferers myself, I can say that Binder's film tackles the condition with insight and sensitivity. Ditto, Liv Tyler's performance of Charlie's psychiatrist was pitched just right, with her soft acting style displaying the levels of tact and empathy such a profession requires.

There's also a great soundtrack (The Pretenders, The Who - obviously, Springsteen, Jackson Browne) and a somewhat unexpected cameo from Donald Sutherland. It's not totally perfect, and things are wrapped up for everyone a touch too neatly by the film's close, but it's a nice little tearjerker that for once handles its message maturely enough.

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