Changing Lanes

| April 14, 2002

After a series of reviews where I have had to say “Rent It, Don’t Pay Retail,” it is so good to be able to tell you to go to the theater right now and see Changing Lanes. First time writer Chap Taylor and director Roger Michell have given us a wonderful evening at the movies.
Changing Lanes takes place on one day in Manhattan where the lives of a young lawyer from the top of the world, and a middle aged insurance telemarketer struggling back from the bottom, intersect in the form of an automobile accident on F.D.R. Drive. The lawyer is Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck from Chasing Amy, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), a fast rising attorney who had the good fortune to marry the senior partner’s daughter. The insurance salesman is Doyle Gibson, (Samuel L. Jackson – insert applause here for the Oscar nomination) a recovering alcoholic who has clearly seen the darkness of the tunnel and is working his way back to the light at the end of it.
Banek is on his way to the courthouse to file papers which would make his firm the conservator of a wealthy charity whose founder has recently passed away. Fighting him for control is the founder’s granddaughter who wants the money to work in the community instead of buying boats for the partners in Banek’s law firm. Gibson is on his way to a different floor of the courthouse to show his ex-wife that he has bought her a house so she will not move to Oregon taking his two sons with her. There has been a lot of pain in Gibson’s life and Jackson’s performance will immediately have you rooting for him to catch some kind of a break.
On their respective drives, they have an accident: in the rain, when they are tense, and when they are both running late on what is a most important day of their lives. After a miserable attempt at buying him off with a blank check, Banek drives off, leaving Gibson stranded in front of his undriveable automobile. What he also unintentionally leaves, is the file that helps his firm take over the charity.
It is this file, and Banek’s attempt to recover it from Gibson, which makes up the bulk of the story. What we see is how easy it can become to continue down the slippery slope of crime and deception and how hard it Is to stay on that path once you have turned it around. Each man will be tested. Each will fail.
The acting is superb. The headliners, Jackson and Affleck, are tremendous. Their pain, their happiness, their despair: you will feel it all. Affleck begins the day following the lead of his senior partners and we watch him swing back and forth during the day with a wide variance of emotion between being out of control and wondering why he even should collect the file. Jackson is obviously fighting demons, both old and new, on his way to what he hopes to be a redemptive life. I hope he finds it.
But the supporting cast is also something else. Kim Staunton, as Valerie Gibson, is a little known actress who has done mostly bit parts on TV. In Changing Lanes, she has put together a reel showing abilities that must surely get her more work, if not supporting actress consideration. At the end of the year, remember her job as Doyle Gibson’s wife.
Another supporting actress is Toni Collette (She was Haley Joel Osment’s mom in The Sixth Sense). She is another lawyer at Banek’s firm who he has had far more than a professional relationship. Collette turns in an excellent performance as she tries to help Banek, certainly not because it is legal, but because she does not want it to be over.
Acting kudos must also go to William Hurt. As Gibson’s sponsor, he is there to help our hero stay on that slim tightrope to recovery. One line that was very funny is when he tells Gibson that he is addicted to chaos. It made me think about Jackson’s part in Unbreakable. Hurt is an amazing actor. I look forward to his upcoming movie Tuck Everlasting with Ben Kingsley and Sissy Spacek.
What you truly need to experience is the camera work of cinematographer Salvatore Totino (Any Given Sunday). He takes you constantly onto the edge of focus. This was a perfect way to photograph the lives of every character in the movie. All of them (except Hurt) seem to be on the edge of good and bad, drifting back and forth – showing us a true vision of life where we can’t always be what we want to be.
An editorial comment: In the establishing shots at the beginning of themovie there is a shot of the World Trade Center. I have noticed that in every movie or TV show shot in NYC, I find myself looking for the buildings. I know that there is bound to be a few more movies which are “in the can” in which the WTC makes an appearance, but I wish editors would check their footage for these shots. I wish it was not such a big deal to me, but the sadness we have all felt over that tragedy is not something I want to be reminded of in the movies.

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