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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

[INTERVIEW] Reign Over Me (2007, ***)

I WALKED AROUND THAT NIGHT AND THERE WERE ALL THESE PEOPLE CRYING AND YOU KNEW THEY HAD LOST SOMEONE,” writer-director Mike Binder says of his experience the day of September 11, 2001 in Manhattan. “A couple of years later, I was in New York with my family, and I just thought, ‘There are still people wandering the streets who lost someone that day.’ Everyone else has moved on, but these people are still living with it. What’s that like?” Earnest research and many conversations resulted in Reign Over Me, a powerful Adam Sandler-starring drama about a widower unable to forget the loss of his family. “We were looking for people who have suffered a loss that was so traumatic,” Binder says, “that they couldn’t get off the couch, even after several years.” Like the Detroit-born writer-director’s The Upside of Anger (2005), complicated emotions and generous digressions make for unusually intelligent and involving drama.
reign_pan_235-3456.jpgSandler plays Charlie Fineman, who had been a successful dentis, but now lives out his days on a motorized scooter through mostly-deserted Manhattan streets, listening to songs that mattered to him in that time called “before” that he does not want to forget, 1970s rock like The Who’s “Reign O’er Me” (a cover of which by Eddie Vedder provides a drenching crescendo to the movie under the end credits). One day, an old friend, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) sees Charlie on the street, a mop-haired, wild-eyed mess, but he doesn’t seem to remember Alan—even though they were college roommates. Alan is married with kids, life seems good with wife (stern Jada Pinkett Smith) despite an unspecified chill between them. Alan has a colleague in the same professional building, a therapist (quietly empathetic Liv Tyler) whom he peppers with inappropriate questions, and later leads Charlie to visit in hopes of coming out of his angry rituals of denial. (Sandler readily goes from shattered to shattering; the wells of emotion in Punch Drunk Love were not an anomaly.)
The two men begin to spend time together, mostly in the deep twilight of Charlie’s life, bounded by his iPod, movies, a videogame filled with battling titans. “To me, the whole movie boils down to a piece about communication and kind of the restoring powers of having someone to talk to,” Binder says, “and the flip side of the damage that can slowly accumulate of not having someone to talk to.” The location shooting is extensive and gorgeous, enabled by the Panavision Genesis high definition camera. Visually, the film swaddles you in Charlie’s closed-off melancholy. The abandoned night streets of Manhattan have a dreamy immediacy: without the need to light as extensively near and most effectively, far, the perspective emulates what you’d see walking out the door of an apartment, a café, a bar. The camera system also favors Charlie’s shaggy, sallow look, the tiny Pinkett Smith’s imperious cheekbones and the powder pale of Tyler’s skin, a much different manner of stylization than the yellowed, brittle newspaper clippings palette of Zodiac.

“I think not being a New Yorker helped,” Binder says of his perspective when I ask if he was relecting the “We Are All New Yorkers” ethos of the immediately post-9/11 America. “I was in New York that day and I was stuck there for five days after. My sense of the movie… I’ll tell you how this movie came about. I was stuck there. I was actually on ABC with Diane Sawyer doing an interview when the first plane hit. I was sitting next to Sarah Ferguson, Fergie, actually. She said, ‘I just left the World Trade Center.’ We thought it was a small plane that hit. Her office was there. If she hadn’t left to go be on ‘Good Morning America,’ she’d be dead.”
But he took a different perspective when he wrote. “We wanted to shoot the movie from the sidewalk up so you always felt like you were inside a canyon of buildings,” the former comic says, “and you really felt what it was like to be walking the streets. When we found out about this Genesis camera, we did tests and realized that we didn’t have to light blocks and blocks to see blocks and blocks. So we were looking for that, but I just started to like the look. It looked so stark and so much like what it is really like when you’re walking down the street.”
There’s another universal that he insists upon. “We weren’t looking in our research exclusively for [survivors of 9/11 victims]. This is historical fiction and we weren’t looking for a guy who lost three children. We also wanted the piece to be about people who lost people in Oklahoma City and Katrina. I wanted it to be more about how we all put the spotlight on a tragedy and then the next tragedy comes up and the spotlight goes to the next one and these people are still wandering the streets still living in the first one. We talked to several people. I’m glad we did due diligence because now that we’re showing it to people [to whom] this [hits] really close to home. They’re seeing it as real and I don’t think if we hadn’t done the research and hadn’t really worked through it, it would have been sad right now because I think there’s a chance for this movie to have a real healing effect. I know it’s just a movie, but I really do think there’s a side to this movie that is beyond entertainment. “

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“Roger Ebert claimed that the re-editing of The Brown Bunny after Cannes allowed him a difference of opinion so vast that he first called it the worst film in history and eventually gave it a thumbs up. This is both far fetched and an outright lie. The truth is, unlike the many claims that the unfinished film that showed at Cannes was 24 minutes shorter than the finished film, it was only 8 minutes shorter. The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary. The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many. I shortened the opening race scene once I was able to do so digitally. After rewatching the last 4 minutes of the film over and over again, somewhere within those 4 minutes, I froze the picture and just ended the film there, cutting out everything after that point, which was about 3 minutes. Originally in the salt flats scene, the motorcycle returned from the white. I removed the return portion of that shot, which seemed too literal. And I cut a scene of me putting on a sweater. That’s pretty much it. Plus the usual frame here, frame there, final tweaks. If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa. Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra. Stuck with a brutal, dismissive review of a film that other, more serious critics eventually felt differently about. He also took attention away from what he actually did at the press screening. It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes. His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film. Afterwards, at the first public screening, booing, laughing and hissing started during the open credits, even before the first scene of the film. The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped. To make things weirder, I got a record-setting standing ovation from the supporters of the film who were trying to show up the distractors who had been disrupting the film. It was not the cut nor the film itself that drew blood. It was something suspicious about me. Something offensive to certain ideologues.”
~ Vincent Gallo

“I think [technology has[ its made my life faster, it’s made the ability to succeed easier. But has that made my life better? Is it better now than it was in the eighties or seventies? I don’t think we are happier. Maybe because I’m 55, I really am asking these questions… I really want to do meaningful things! This is also the time that I really want to focus on directing. I think that I will act less and less. I’ve been doing it for 52 years. It’s a long time to do one thing and I feel like there are a lot of stories that I got out of my system that I don’t need to tell anymore. I don’t need to ever do The Accused again! That is never going to happen again! You hit these milestones as an actor, and then you say, ‘Now what? Now what do I have to say?'”
~ Jodie Foster