Two years ago, writer/director Mike Binder proved he was capable of delivering an insightful and entertaining film with “The Upside of Anger.”
Now, Binder brings us “Reign Over Me,” another effective comedy/drama that features quality work by Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler.
Cheadle plays Alan Johnson, a dentist with a great family and job, who is just going through the motions with no apparent joy whatsoever in his life.
Alan's world gets a jolt one day when he runs into his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). To say Charlie's world is in disarray is an understatement. Charlie has regressed into a sheltered world, trying to deal with the loss of his wife and three children in the Sept. 11 attacks.
After the encounter, Alan attempts to help Charlie overcome his grief, but the process proves difficult for both men, who have clearly isolated themselves in one form or another. Charlie's isolation is more obvious; Alan's is a subtle withdrawal from his family and coworkers.
As in his previous film, Binder does an excellent job of creating interesting characters with compelling stories and sprinkles in some humorous moments. The characters are given life by a talented cast.
I've always considered Don Cheadle an underrated actor, and he doesn't disappoint here. Sandler is just as good - the former Saturday Night Live comedian has shown his range in films like “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Spanglish,” but he may be at his best here as Charlie.
I had a hard time buying Liv Tyler as a psychiatrist at first, but she settles into the role and is actually pretty good. Donald Sutherland has a great small role in the film as a judge.
“Reign” does have flaws - mainly a subplot involving a female patient who threatens Alan with a sexual harassment suit - but it doesn't hinder the film's overall effectiveness. This isn't quite up to par with “Anger” (which featured an Oscar-worthy performance from Joan Allen), but is still better than almost anything else released thus far in 2007.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is “Children of Men” (B), Alfonso Cuaron's futuristic tale starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. The late 2006 release has developed a small, loyal following and gets a second chance on DVD.
Set 20 years in the future, “Men” shows a chaotic world in which humans can no longer procreate.
Owen plays Theo, a former political activist turned bureaucrat who's forced to face his demons when his ex-wife (Moore) asks for his help protecting a woman who has mysteriously become pregnant.
“Men” is a rare kind of film - thought-provoking, but full of intense action scenes.
The best moments involve a car chase and a chase through a battled-ravaged city filmed in one continuous shot. The sequences are strong, but also prove to be the film's weakness - it almost falls into a rut, getting into a chase/talk rhythm that becomes repetitive.
Owen is very good as Theo and continues to make films that suggests he would make a great James Bond. Moore is fine in what could have been a throwaway role, and Michael Caine has some good moments of comic relief as an aging, helpful hippie.
Cuaron - who also did the last “Harry Potter” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien” - continues to take risks as a director, never opting to slide by on his resume. The decision again works, and Cuaron adds another compelling film to his glowing portfolio.
“Children of Men” is rated R for strong violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity and is available on DVD.