[Movie Review] Changing Lanes

Changing LanesStarring: Samuel L Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet, William Hurt, Kim Staunton, Sydney Pollack
Director: Roger Michell
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2002

Gavin Banek (Affleck – “Daredevil”, “The Sum Of All Fears”, “Pearl Harbour”) and Doyle Gipson (Jackson – “Star Wars: Episode II”, “XXX”, “Shaft”, “Unbreakable”) could not have asked for a worse time to have a bad day.

High-flying lawyer Banek is on his way to court to fight a suit on behalf of his employers. Recovering alcoholic Gipson is on his way to court to demonstrate that he can provide a home for his estranged wife and children. Both men lead very different and separate lives, but these lives are about to clash in dramatic fashion.

When they are involved in a minor car accident with each other, Doyle insists on exchanging insurance information but Gavin is in a hurry and dismisses Doyle’s concerns, giving him a blank cheque instead. As he flees the scene of the accident Gavin leaves behind important papers that are material to his court case. Doyle, as a result of the accident and Gavin’s refusal to give him a lift into the city, ends up turning late for his court appearance, and subsequently loses his case.

With both men’s lives on the brink, they become bent on revenge and within their relative means, do their best to bring the other one down.

“Changing Lanes” is really a story about two inherently good men who “turn” in their desperation to get payback on each other. Banek might have the looks, the moves, the money and the education to achieve anything he wants, but deep down you sense he’s unhappy – unhappy in his job and unhappy with his family relationships.

Gipson has never had any of those things. He’s attending AA, his wife has left him and his job as an insurance sales representative is hardly the stuff of dreams. But his recovery over the last few years, with the help of his sponsor (Hurt – “Lost in Space”, “Dark City”, “Michael”, “Smoke”), has been inspirational to him, and his enthusiasm for making a success of his life is evident.

This battle of wits, spiraling out of control at times, is the main focus of “Changing Lanes”. There is a small sub-plot involving Gavin’s affair with colleague, Michelle (Collette – “About a Boy”, “The Sixth Sense”, “Strictly Ballroom”, “Shaft”), but it merely serves to portray the dissatisfaction that he is experiencing in his marriage.

If I had to be critical about the movie, I’d identify the main problem being that there is just too much going on. Gavin has until the end of the day to retrieve his file and present it to the court, therefore the action all happens in one afternoon – you wonder how director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”, “Persuasion”) manages to fit it all in. There is enough time for “tooing-and-froing” between different offices and court rooms, lunch dates, an evacuation, a drink in a bar, several visits to a bank, car accidents… there’s not much that doesn’t happen.

I’d also question just how realistic the character’s behaviour is. Do normal people, even in their presently extraordinary situations, really behave in this way? Would a working-class, recovering alcoholic find the wherewithal to do things like sending threatening faxes to a top law firm, destroying public property, or savagely attacking two guys he’d had an argument with? Would a previously clean, respected, up-and-coming lawyer break the law with frightening regularity?

But I’d be quite lenient about any criticism. Because behind these minor problems lies a psychological thriller that’s carried by an urgent script, quality performances (Affleck shining for, in my opinion, the first time ever) and a gripping storyline.

The strength of the movie is in its (flawed) characters. While Banek’s initial arrogance is a turn-off, he soon earns, perhaps, a little sympathy. Gipson is quite easy to sympathise (indeed maybe empathise with) but when you see his seedier side, you take a step back. But the greyness of the characters is what helps keep your attention.

The support cast prove themselves to be more than able cushions for the main protagonists. Gavin’s father-in-law, and boss, the fairly hideous Stephen Delano (Pollack – “A Civil Action”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Tootsie”, “Husbands and Wives”), justifies his corrupted profession by saying “at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got to judge by?’.

Kim Staunton (“Dragonfly”, “Holy Man”, “Heat”, “Deceived”) is outstanding as Valerie Gipson, the forgiving but jaded wife of Doyle, and within their small roles, Toni Collette and Amanda Peet (as Gavin’s pampered wife, Cynthia), perform admirably.

“Changing Lanes” isn’t hugely likely to be ever based on a true story, but it’s enjoyable nonsense at its best.

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