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Movie Review

Alan Johnson is a successful but somewhat bored dentist who stumbles upon an old college roommate. But this friend, Charlie, is a shell of the man he was and does little more than play video games and ride his moped through the streets of New York City. Alan determines to help when he realizes that his former fratmate has completely shut himself off emotionally after losing his family in the 9/11 attacks.

The two spend a lot of time together, which starts to strain Alan's marriage and business. But the men begin to realize that the committed bond of this renewed friendship could be a lifeline that both have been looking for.


Positive Elements

Alan is a good man who strives to do well by his friend and his family. He spends time with Charlie and reignites the man's ability (and his own) to feel joy in life. Even when Charlie violently lashes out, Alan tries to find help for him in any way possible. Over the course of several sessions, a longsuffering psychiatrist motivates Charlie to realize the need of talking about his loss. Charlie chooses to tell Alan, who has earned his trust.

In spite of the marital and emotional strains that Alan and his wife bear, they both stand true to each other and ultimately express their united love. When faced with strong sexual temptation, Alan chooses what he knows is morally right. He verbally reinforces good choices to his daughters. And as he works to help Charlie, he realizes that his own life can be more fun and fulfilling if he chooses to recognize the simple joys around him. Charlie tries to help his in-laws (who are having him committed to a mental institution) understand his pain, and he kisses his mother-in-law on the cheek.

Spiritual Content

None. (And its absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle of a story devoted to emotional healing, second chances and the possibility of renewed joy.)

Sexual Content

A female patient puts her hand on Alan's knee and offers to perform oral sex on him when the two are briefly alone. (Alan quickly backs off and sends her away.) When the woman threatens to sue, Alan is forced by his partners to meet with her again. Sitting in front of him on a low foot stool, she puts her hands on his legs again in what appears to be a provocative manner—but ends up apologizing for her previous actions. After Charlie learns about the woman, he openly jokes (and makes a crude hand gesture) about oral sex.

Charlie is said to have sleepwalked in the nude while in college. When he meets Alan's female psychiatrist friend he makes a number of comments about her breasts (using a derogatory term).

Violent Content

Charlie hits bottom and decides to kill himself at one point. He unwraps a pistol he had packed away, but can't find bullets for the gun. So he goes into the street and points the empty weapon at a cab driver and tries to goad the police into shooting him. They throw him to the ground, pummel him and snatch his gun away.

Whenever Charlie is nudged to remember his wife and daughters he reacts with a loud violent outburst. He's seen trashing the contents of Alan's office and a psychiatrist's office. At different times he grabs Alan by the throat, pushes him up against a wall, slaps him in the face and throws a drink at him. In an emotional speech, Charlie talks of seeing his family burn in his mind's eye.

Of lesser note, the video game the friends play features a man attacking a dragon with a knife. Charlie is shown watching a news program about terrorism.

Crude or Profane Language

Scriptwriters fall back on 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.

Drug and Alcohol Content

At an emotional turning point for Charlie, he walks into a liquor store and buys a bottle of alcohol. He's then shown drinking from a nearly-empty bottle while watching TV. Alan and others drink beer in a club, and he and his wife drink wine at home. Charlie's mother-in-law drinks wine at lunch.

Other Negative Elements

Charlie compels Alan to join him for an all-night movie marathon by repeatedly calling him a "faggot." While petitioning the court to have Charlie committed to a mental institution, a lawyer deliberately tortures Charlie with numerous pictures of his once beautiful family. When another emotionally troubled character takes a romantic interest in Charlie, Alan—and the movie—seem to smile upon what's likely to be a recipe for disaster.


The sandblast of life's tragedies has a way of exposing what kind of metal we're made of. I once had a friend who was stricken by HIV/AIDS and died a distant, grieving, untouchable man. Another close acquaintance succumbed to cancer, but glowed with love and faith, touching everyone around her. In Reign Over Me, Charlie is a lot like that first friend of mine. But he's offered a kind of personal redemption from a friend more like the second.

Known for his goofy comedies, Adam Sandler does a surprisingly good job portraying the bereaved and disturbed Charlie (looking like a scruffy, hungover Bob Dylan). But it's Don Cheadle's Alan who 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.

And so, the film talks of the rewards of committed friendship and the precious value of family and marriage. It's a good message. But it's sandblasted by a different sort of grit altogether that does nothing to clean, preserve, expose character or even provoke thought: totally unnecessary foul language and crude sexual innuendo. It's undoubtedly included to lend a "realistic" hue, but, to use yet another metaphor, it drains more color than it leaves.

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