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Reign Over Me a.k.a. Empty City; Reign O’er Me

MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for language and some sexual references

Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
2 hr. 4 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
March 23, 2007 (wide—1600 theaters)
Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

The Origin of bad—How did bad things come about? Answer

What kind of world would you create? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?
Featuring: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland, Mike Binder
Director: Mike Binder
The Upside of Anger
Producer: Michael Rotenberg, Jack Binder
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

“Let in the unexpected.”

We are not here to judge anyone about how they handle their grief. There are no set rules (by Earthly standards) by which we mourn or by which anyone can comfort the mourner.

Hearts are broken. Life is unpredictable. Evil exists. Perhaps, as in the lyrics of one of the songs Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) listens to, “life is a battlefield.”

But there is hope.

At first glance “Reign Over Me” seems like the story of a devastated and fragile man who has lost his family and his mind because of the tragedy of September 11th. But with a closer look, we see this story is inevitably about the enormous responsibility being a true friend is, sometimes caring for the other more than family. The bond is never broken. It is trust and strength and love. It is Christ like in it’s devotion. It is Christ’s love in action. Even if Director and screen writer Mike Binder never intentioned his story to be this, it has the message of Christ The Comforter all through it.

What a shame no spiritual reference to Jesus is ever mentioned. God is never even hinted at as the true road to healing in “Reign Over Me.” His absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle of a story keenly devoted to emotional healing, second chances and the possibility of renewed love and joy.

The bereaved and painfully disturbed Charlie Fineman moves deftly through his life floating above his pain and loss like a little child lost in a game. Nothing is as it seems, no reality but his own. Charlie is locked into a self contrived world of video games, 70’s music and keeping his dark memories at bay. He maneuvers through New York streets on a motorized scooter, blocking out the city noise and the reality of life, with his big crazy-man headphones clamped over his ears, echoing the songs of his long ago carefree college years.

By some great work of chance his dental college room mate, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) sees Charlie moving through downtown traffic one day and flags him down. Alan is ready for a “guy” type friend as he feels almost suffocated by his wife Janeane’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) need for a “buddy” to take photography classes and complete puzzles with. She is really his closest confidant, but he doesn’t realize it until the end of the film, as Charlie’s grief will open Alan’s eyes to the truth and strength of what a loving marital bond is all about.

As the story progresses, Alan becomes immersed in the tragic and often comical world Charlie has built around himself. Through their need for companionship, they spend enough time together that Alan begins to understand Charlie is a guy who truly needs help to overcome the unrealistic barriers he has set up to block out the horrific memory of September 11th, 2001. The day a plane bound for the west coast changed its course and crashed into The Twin Towers in turn changing the course of Charlie’s life forever.

Alan soon realizes that just paling around with Charlie, will not help Charlie overcome his grief and wrongly decides that Charlie is in need of a “shrink.” So Alan asks the thoughtful and caring Dr. Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler) to take Charlie in for a few sessions. What Alan never asked himself is just what kind of “help” does Charlie really need.

Agitating the situation even further is the sudden death of Alan’s father in the midst of Charlie’s problematic antics, difficulties at Alan’s dental practice in reference to Donna (Saffron Burrows) an enamored patient, Charlie’s well meaning in-laws, Robert Klien as Jonathan Timpleman and Melinda Dillon as Ginger Timpleman, who do nothing but reopen the wounds Charlie is trying hard to nurse and Charlie’s accountant, Bryan Sugarman (screenwriter/director Mike Binder), who just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut.

In the end, Alan Johnson’s devotion and compassion moves us with his unswerving desire to sacrifice for his friend—who’s buried under grief to the point of disappearing. No one else can see the use. No one else can make the reach. But Alan endures and ends up gaining as much as he gives.

The story is so great that it seems a shame that the script falls on so much foul language, but the intent was to keep it close to real life as possible, I suppose. “Plugged In” reports the f-word close to 30 times. The s-word follows closely behind at nearly 20. The names Christ and Jesus are abused a handful of times; God’s name is combined with 'd—n.' 'B—ch,' 'b—tard,' “a__,” 'd—n,' “h___,” “p___” and vulgar terms for male and female body parts round out the out-of-bounds word count in the neighborhood of 100. I am pleased that they kept count, because I was busy wondering why the Donna character was even written in until the final scenes, and at that, I still felt her sex fixation with the Alan character was uncalled for.

This is completely an adult film, as kids would never understand the impact of Charlie’s loss of wife, kids, job, etc. Let alone the adult themes on sexuality including mature off color jokes. Although the terrorist attacks of 9/11 touched all lives at different levels, including children, this film deals with the total shock and devastation 9/11 played on one man. It’s mature nature is something no one under 16 can truly comprehend. It is because of mature themes, be it story line or language, that I cannot recommend this film for those under 16. It is a wonderful, heartfelt, moving picture, but caution must be taken for Christian viewers of all ages because of some explicate language and sexual overtones that may be offensive.

Adam Sandler’s dramatic performance was one of a kind. He has one scene where he totally vocalizes what we all feel towards the loss of innocent lives and complete anguish over September 11th. I was moved at how many sitting in the theater with me openly wept all during this heart wrenching performance.

What is true pain? What is mourning all about? What is it that strikes the heart—sorrow that penetrates clean through to our very bones—over the loss of those we love? About the brutal cruelty of any senseless death?

Why do evil people wish to harm innocents? How can anyone endure such a loss? These and so many other questions our souls long to have answered are only found answered in the mind of God. In the pages of The Bible. The only complete comfort comes from The Comforter Himself.

Power over others was, and still is, the intent of the terrorists. The power to turn all the world to their way of life as the only way of life for all mankind, by force. Power by taking someone’s turn or by the taking of someone’s life will come to only one end: futility because absolute power is unreachable. In the end, now or a thousand years from now, it will not matter that you ruled the whole world by force. It will not make a difference what your title in this world was. But it will make a literal hell of a difference whose child you are. A terrorist cannot be a child of God, for no true child of God uses force and murder to win over the world.

“Anyone who wants to be a friend of the world becomes God’s enemy” (James 4:4).

For Charlie the journey was stormy and difficult. He was forced to shoulder burdens that few of us will ever have to carry. He was robbed of his life-long dreams, his partner, his children. His desire to pull over to the side of the road and exit from life enticed him. If not for Alan and Angela to encourage him, he never could have come back to his life in any form. If only too, someone would have given him the hope he has in Jesus this story would have been complete, the journey back well worth it. How much more to know that God will get you home, that He alone will heal your broken heart.

“I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens” (Philippians 4:12).

No one knows exactly how another feels. Our sufferings may be extremely hard to bear: but they can be used as lessons to help us help others. Our attitude towards suffering should never be “grit your teeth and bear it,” but we should all learn all we can from our personal problems so that we can comfort others, just as Jesus did. Remembering God is our eternal refuge and “Underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

What is God’s word to you today? It is to be strong and courageous. It is to lift up those who sorrow. The redemptive song from the Who’s Quadrophenia inspires this movie’s title. Nevertheless, I hope we remember—for the tragedy of September 11th, 2001 and all the “Charlie’s” effected by it, The Lord God, over you and all the Earth, “Reigns!”

“Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, The Lord will be my light” (Micah 7:8).

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—“Reign Over Me” is an inspiring, beautiful, effective film. Adam Sandler gives a wonderful unique performance. Don Cheadle is great as well. “Reign Over Me” has about 20 f-words though. But this isn’t even a movie intended for kids (although one annoying moviegoer seemed to think so as her dumb toddler talked during some scenes of the movie).

It’s a film for older teenagers and adults, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it as much as I did. Other language is used as well. About 4 G-Damns, along with a term used for a female body part said as an insult. There are some sexual references involving an ill female patient who wants to perform a sexual act on Don Cheadle’s character. It’s not spoken of in a graphic profanity-laced matter but it’s still talked about. I found it a bit unnecessary but the character came through a bit in the end. A little. At least for Charlie.

That’s about the only stuff that may offend some viewers. But for mature Christian moviegoers, the content is tolerable. They’ll get past it and pay attention the beautiful story that is told. The title “Reign Over Me” means to reign love over someone. To take care of someone in their time of need. To even pray about them and be their friend, even if they’re unstable or in deep pain. Love others no matter what. That’s what the Bible says. It also says to love people we may not like. A lot of Christians seem to pass on that one and continue to hate others. Do we hate Britney Spears? Or Nicole Richie? Or Heather Graham? We’re not supposed to. We should pray for them even if they do seem trashy and slutty.

The film is inspiring and is a reminder to care about those in need and in deep pain. Really. The film pushes that message through to your heart. I will always remember. It’s a film about hope and love. An excellent film. Usually people only think a movie will be worth 10 bucks if it has a bunch of special effects and CGI. This one is worth 10 bucks because it has a heart. It has a message that we should all learn, remember and definitely ACT ON. Let love reign. And God is love. So let GOD reign. Go see this movie. Like… now…
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Derek, age 25
Positive—A theme that I found in this movie, among a plethora of others, is the marriage relationship. As portrayed in this movie, the relationship between Don Cheadle’s character and that of Jada Pinkett Smith. I found insight that includes: we as women in our men’s lives need to be thinking of them as individuals, different than ourselves in so many ways. Even in a marriage relationship, individuals maintain that individuality and it is our responsibility to be sensitive to that. Specifically: men need men, even when we think that we should be enough for them; women need women, don’t they? Also, once this balance is reached (through good, hard communication), both parties can give and take freely without resentment. Think about this: what are your needs? Are all of them being met? For those that aren’t, does your partner or family know this it exists or how to help you? What, then, are the needs of those around you?
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
Umie Lot, age 19
Positive—I would echo the comments of the other positive viewers. I am a conservative Christian, but what I like about this movie is the real struggle of one man over temptation and how far his compassion will take him. What is refreshing is that the main character, Alan, makes the right choices every time. But, we see and feel his struggle to do so. Everyone is faced with temptation but this time Hollywood shows a man who can overcome it and make the right choices.

The main plot is Alan’s compassion for a lost and grieving soul, Charlie. I think the movie does a good job illustrating the struggle we all have to show compassion on others and how much it may cost us to do so. Charlie is very annoying and a very large project, but Alan doesn’t give up on him. There are definitely adult themes, so I would recommend to be at least 18 years of age to understand and relate. If you want to see and uplifting drama with great moviemaking quality, I think this would be a good choice.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4½
Dan D, age 38
Positive—I rate this a very strong 4, but for a couple of reasons can’t rate it any higher. One being-as good and ground-breaking as Adam Sandler’s performnace is, there are still times when his goofy “waterboy”-type character sneaks in and ruins it for me. But the rest of the time he shows incredible restraint like the aforementioned scene when He finally talks about what happened to his wife and kids. The other thing(and this is probably a positive thing to most movie-goers, and the whole intent of the story)is that nothing is really resolved. As much as others, except for maybe Don Cheadle’s character, try to change the way Charlie grieves-they never can. His way is the right way for him-and that’s OK-for now anyway, we can hope he progresses after the movie is over. With all that said, this is a very moving adult film-again with many expletives and a whole sub-plot(the infatuated patient) with strong sexual overtones that we’re really unneccesary to the story. Don Cheadle is great as usual, along with Robert Klein,Melinda Dillon, and all of the minor role actors. A very much needed story that should create a lot of discussion about survivors of this and other tragedies-and what really is the correct way to grieve-is there one? and a very important role for Sandler-that will hopefully open the door to more serious roles-He is very capable of pulling them off.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4
David Momberg, age 45
Comments from young people
Positive—This movie was just as good as I expected it to be. I only had a few disappointments which I’ll mention later. Other than those things, I found this movie to be terrific. From a moviemaking quality view, this movie is great. The acting was one of the best things about this movie.

I’ve come to expect excellent performances from Don Cheadle and he doesn’t disappoint here. But I was surprised by Adam Sandler. He gave the performance of his career in this movie and I hope to see more acting like this in any future movies he makes. This movie is a drama and it is a very good drama. It pulls you in and makes you feel like a part of it. It makes you feel what the characters feel whether it be frustration, shock, sadness, happiness, or what have you. Of course, the acting performances I mentioned enhance this (Sandler can make you come close to crying at times).

From a moral quality view, the movie is kind of shaky. It’s got plenty of good morals to counterbalance the negatives to make it an Average rating. The negatives are mostly in one department. That is language. Unfortunately, this movie earns its R-rating with the amount of cursing. The figure in the review of around 100 is probably not that far off, but I can’t say for sure because I wasn’t trying to keep track. Though the makers were likely going for realism and wanted to enhance the moments of anger and frustration, it is unfortunate that such a large dose was used to the point that it had to be rated R. There is some negative sexual content, but at least one package of it contributes positively to character development and to the story. I also have a complaint about the spiritual content which follows suit with what’s already been said. In a movie which really could have used positive spiritual content, there was none to be found.

However, there are plenty of positives. First, as I alluded to above, there is positive sexual content. A woman offers to perform oral sex on Don Cheadle’s character, but he refuses, instead choosing to remain faithful to his wife. This tells us some about his character. Even though his marriage doesn’t seem as great as it once was, he doesn’t go around seeking “thrills” in adultery. We also see a display of true friendship between Cheadle’s and Sandler’s characters. Though they have their falling-outs (either due to Sandler’s spurts of anger or, at least once, due to his insensitivity), they continue to remain friends and Cheadle continues to help Sandler and Sandler continues to open up to Cheadle.

Overall, I cautiously recommend this movie. It’s a movie that will make you go through a barrage of emotions and it will be good, but you must make the decision on whether you want to sit through all the language that comes pouring out of the script.
My Ratings: Average / 4
Ross, age 17
Negative—Terrible! It was a nasty movie to begin with. Sex is bad, and language is bad! This movie deserved an R-rating! Don’t let your kids see this movie!
My Ratings: Offensive / 1
Nathan Thomas, age 13