Retro Review: Changing Lanes

This could happen to you. Ever had those chance encounters with a stranger where the person really rubs you the wrong way.

Imagine if that encounter escalated into something even larger and changed you and the stranger forever.

You know that it could be solved by doing something simple and realistic but it seems to emerge beyond that. Well this happens for Gavin Banek and Doyle Gibson.

Banek (Ben Affleck) is a lawyer who has just landed the biggest case of his career and he is doing his all to make partner. Gibson (Samuel L Jackson) is an alcoholic father who is desperately trying to prevent his family from moving across the country.

When these two lives physically slam into each other, through a car fender-bender on the freeway, a chain of events escalates and seems to be centered on a case-file that is the key to Banek’s whole career. This case-file drives a wedge between the men and each man strikes back at the other in anger and frustration. It could be simple to solve this but the feud becomes more than a simple piece of paper within an orange case-file.

“Changing Lanes” is very claustrophobic in its direction, as the director drives us inside the minds of these men. In some isolated scenes you can actually see heart-throb Affleck sweat as he contemplates his next move.

This kind of film and style of direction is a departure for “Notting Hill” director Roger Michell, who now directs this picture. “Notting Hill” was such a sweet and warm film where “Changing Lanes” is very gritty and intense. This departure seems to enhance as well as compliment this director’s foraging into unknown territory. It’s a bold move for both the director and his actors.

I really liked the performances of both Affleck and Jackson. Affleck is out-acted for the most part by Jackson but does hold his own in his own solo scenes. I never bought his relationship with his co-worker played by Toni Collette.

But I did really enjoy his dinner confrontation with his estranged wife (Amanda Peet) and some of the scenes where Affleck’s character becomes even more unglued. This is another one of those roles that will help Affleck solidify himself as a leading man and a star.

Jackson’s performance shocked me so much I had to remind myself that this guy is “Mace Windu” and “Shaft”. I loved how Jackson could encompass such a different persona as Doyle Gibson. Jackson’s Gibson did remind me some of Michael Douglas in “Falling Down”.

Jackson’s desperation and when he finally explodes at the loan officer reminded me so much of the scene in “Falling Down” which took place in MacDonald’s.

To put a finer point on it, “Changing Lanes” is a lot like “Falling Down” except that “Changing Lanes” involves two men instead of one man becoming unglued from society. It’s always such a delight when Hollywood brings forth films like this because it allows us to explore these kinds of issues as we watch the film.

What kind of morals do we have and if faced with a conflict would we break them?

“Changing Lanes” won’t be for everyone because of its subject matter and some will scream at it for not going for the logical simple conclusion. For me this film was more about the journey than the incident. Through that journey these characters grew.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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