Changing Lanes

Rated: R
Stars: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Staunton, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, John Hurt
Director: Roger Michell
Writers: Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin – Based on a story by Chap Taylor

This is a stunning film of great character dimension, where we watch two, basically decent men, behave appallingly toward one another, then rise from the depths to which they have descended to rejoin humanity, the better part of it, I might add. It is beautifully written and acted and I’m happy to report that Ben Affleck has finally reached a new level in his career; he’s quite good here. The direction is superb; the camerawork is unnerving when it needs to be to keep us on edge as much as the characters are through a riveting drama.

Two men, both with dire needs to be in court at roughly the same time, get into a fender bender on a New York City expressway. Ben Affleck plays rich attorney Gavin Banek who needs to file important documents for his firm. Samuel L. Jackson plays Doyle Gipson, a recovering alcoholic, who needs to appear in court for a custody hearing to prevent his fed up wife from moving with their sons to Oregon.

Gavin’s in such a rush to file his papers that he willingly hands Doyle a blank check but leaves him stranded with his damaged car on the expressway, despite Doyle’s urgent pleas for a ride. Bad move on Gavin’s part because, in his haste, he accidentally leaves behind the most important document that he must file with the court. Gavin makes it there on time but then discovers his loss. Doyle finds that the judge has already ruled in his absence and nothing he says will convince the judge to reconsider. Gavin’s file has been in Doyle’s possession since the accident and without it, Gavin stands to lose his job, his legal credentials and he could even go to jail. The stakes are very high for him to get it back.

For every action, there is a reaction. Besieged by anger over the single incident that he attributes to the loss of his family, Doyle’s refusal to return the file sets the stage for an escalating war between him and Gavin. But as soon as either comes to his senses, it’s always too late and the snowball keeps getting bigger and bigger.

The film keenly explores rage, character and morality and is exciting to watch to see how it will all play out. The supporting cast is marvelous too. Toni Collette does a wonderful job as Gavin’s colleague; John Hurt is effective as Doyle’s sponsor. Look for Amanda Peet in a small but solid role as Gavin’s pragmatic wife, while Kim Staunton is beautifully sensitive as Doyle’s wife. Sydney Pollack handily plays the greedy owner of Gavin’s firm.

Lotta says: Changing Lanes is an intelligent, realistic and compelling drama. A must see.

Reviewed 4/12/02