It seems that every comedian really wants to be taken seriously. Everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Jim Carrey has tried to put the clown face in storage from time to time in favor of something more dramatic. I’m sure even The Three Stooges would have liked to have had a go at The Three Musketeers instead of The Three Sew and Sews if only typecasting hadn’t had it’s cruel way with them.
In Reign Over Me Adam Sandler leaves goofballs Happy Gilmour and Billy Madison behind, instead choosing to take on a serious role as a heartbroken man having trouble dealing with tragedy.
As Charlie Fineman Sandler (who is looking more like Bob Dylan every day) convincingly plays a man who developed post-traumatic stress syndrome after he lost his wife and three daughters in 9/11. He spends his days and nights in a fog, trying desperately to bury the memories of his lost family. A chance encounter with his old college roommate (Don Cheadle) begins his painful trip back to the real world.
The Wedding Singer this isn’t. This is Sandler’s first real adult role. As Fineman he displays the kind of mood swings and anger that is part of his comedic book of tricks, but here there is more depth than he’s ever offered up before. The way he slowly re-enters the normal world is subtle and effective.
Also effective is the relationship between Cheadle and Sandler. Cheadle’s character is also at a cross roads, although for exactly the opposite reasons that Sandler has withdrawn from life. The two actors play off one another with an unforced intimacy that really sells the idea that they have a history and therefore have a reason to be invested in one another.
Reign Over Me loses some of its momentum in its final moments. Director and writer Mike Binder seems intent in wrapping up all loose ends, making the third act seem a bit too pat. It’s a shame because up until the last ten minutes Reign Over Me doesn’t take the easy route. Tacking on a happy (or at least an implied happy) ending mars what up until then is one of the best films of the year.