Mike Binder is one of those guys. He’s always working in Hollywood. Whether it’s making television shows, movies, writing, directing, whatever. He first popped up on my radar after his HBO show Mind of the Married Man. It was short lived and suffered from being perceived as the guys version of the much more popular Sex and the City. But the show was funny and worth tuning in for, it just wasn’t the right show at the right time for Mike Binder.
Luckily he kept plugging along. He went on to make The Upside of Anger, a 2005 family drama about an unravelling wife and her adult child. They struggle dealing when their husband/father leaves them for another women. Except the father really fell into a ditch and died. It was a subtle and tender story about how misperceptions can allow people to derail their lives. The performances and chemistry between Joan Allen, Kevin Costner, Keri Russell and Evan Rachel Wood really sold the film. That Binder could bring out the best in Kevin Costner is a testiment to his directing skills.
Reign Over Me is another personal adult movie and a triumph for hard-working writer-director Mike Binder. Binder, was afterall being interviewed by Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” when the planes struck and saw the destruction first hand. Though, the Detroit bred filmmaker’s latest movie is not about 9/11. It’s smart and slow moving, often times plodding, but never dull. It doesn’t really follow the traditional film structure, but it tells the story it needs to tell. It’s the kind of movies that rarely get made by studios these days.
The story’s power lies in its deception. Marketed as Adam Sandler’s “serious role,” for as much as this movie is about crazy Adam Sandler playing it serious (and looking like a retarded Bob Dylan), the heart of the movie is Don Cheadle.
Cheadle plays Alan Johnson, a NYC dentist with the perfect life. Except that he’s stopped living and is sort of numb to his wife and children. Sandler is Charlie, a man who’s lost his family on 9/11. Since that day he’s fallen apart, fallen so deeply into the abyss that he can’t process the world around him. He spends his days puttering around the city on a motorized scooter, playing video games at night, remodelling his kitchen, etc.
Charlie and Alan were old college roommates and after a chance encounter they rekindle their friendship. Both men help each other come to terms with their faults and help them get beyond those faults. Alan remembers how to appreciate his life, while Charlie makes a connection to the world again. Simple stuff.
But powerful as well. More than anything, Reign Over Me, is a testament to friendship adn how having friends, tethered to this world, can make the difference in a person’s life.
Cheadle is great as always and Sandler was surprising, demonstrating a depth and sadness I would have never thought existed in him. It’s a bold move on his part to take this role and an even bolder move on Mike Binder’s to cast Sandler as a grieving widow.
Thankfully that gamble has paid off for both men in this emotionally resonate story about friendship, trust and makeing the most of the cards we’re dealt. As a writer and director Binder seems to be more confident and more sure handed tackling difficult and weighty themes. Can’t wait to see what he does next. Even if it’s half as good as Reign Over Me, it’ll be something to see.