Changing Lanes

2002, Movie, R, 99 mins


Two paths cross at the wrong moment, triggering a calamitous chain of bad decisions, rash acts and dangerous overreactions. Wall Street lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is enmeshed in a high-stakes dispute over the administration of a multimillion-dollar charitable trust. Insurance salesman Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), a recovering alcoholic, is fighting a contentious custody battle with his estranged wife (Kim Staunton). Both are rushing to court appearances in Brooklyn when their cars collide; Gavin's vehicle is dinged, while Doyle's is disabled. Doyle, who's struggling to get his life back on track, wants to exchange insurance information while Gavin, flush with privilege, doesn't want to waste time on petty proprieties. When Doyle won't be bought off with a blank check, Gavin drives off and strands him on the rainy road. Doyle misses his family court appointment, and his soon-to-be ex-wife (Kim Staunton), who plans to relocate to Oregon, is awarded full custody of their two sons. Gavin makes his hearing, but has left a vital document — a power of appointment giving his father-in-law (Sydney Pollack) the contested right to administer the trust — at the accident scene. With only a few hours to find and file the document, Gavin faces professional ruin at best, jail at worst. Doyle glimpses Gavin at the courthouse, which makes him just that tiny bit angrier that Gavin refused to give him a lift. Gavin spots Doyle on the street and makes an ill-timed plea for the document's return; realizing that he has the power to hurt Gavin, Doyle fires off a taunting fax. Gavin responds by hiring a hacker (Dylan Baker) to ruin Doyle's credit. And so it goes for the rest of a very long, very dark day: The men strike blindly at each other, each doing more damage than he cares to imagine, neither accepting responsibility for his part in the mess, both heedless of the innocent bystanders who get dragged into their pissing contest. Michael Tolkin (THE RAPTURE, THE NEW AGE) and Chap Taylor's script never degenerates into mano a mano action movie clichés, and though the characters do stupid things, they're never incomprehensibly stupid things. At every juncture it's painfully clear how close Gavin and Doyle come to making the right decision before opting for the wrong. And though Doyle is initially the more sympathetic character, Gavin is more complicated that he first appears; if there's any imbalance in their struggle, it's in the casting: Affleck is a good actor, but Jackson is a great one. The film would be more satisfying if it ended five minutes earlier than it does, but even with its slightly too redemptive coda, it's a bleak and complex moral thriller. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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Samuel L. Jackson Triple Feature: Coach Carter / The Long Kiss Goodnight / Changing Lanes [Blu-ray]
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