“Life is a tightrope. You’ve got to learn to dance.”
We’ve all had bad days. Everyone can relate to that. We’ve all had moments when we weren’t at our best, when we’ve said or done something in the heat of the moment that wasn’t exactly our most shining moment. We can only hope that these momentary lapses of reason don’t cause permanent harm to ourselves or to others. We can only plead our case that we aren’t ultimately defined by these brief acts of frustration brought about by mitigating circumstances. Most of the time we get lucky. Sometimes that fleeting moment isn’t so fleeting. Some times you have a bad day, all of it. That’s the premise behind this Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck vehicle.
Gavin Banek (Affleck) is in a hurry. He’s late for an important court hearing. He’s a partner in the prestigious law firm run by his father in law, Stephen Delano (Pollack). The firm has recently conned a dying man into signing over power of attorney for his multi-million dollar charity foundation to the firm. The man’s granddaughter is now suing the firm. So Gavin has to get the appropriate paperwork to court or face possible criminal charges for fraud. You see, the firm has been spending a lot of those millions. Distracted, Gavin’s not exactly paying attention to the road.
Doyle Gipson (Jackson) is also on his way to court. He’s also running late. Doyle’s ex-wife wants to take his kids to Oregon where he likely will not ever see them again. He has accepted that he hasn’t been a good father and husband and has taken steps to make up for it. He’s buying a house for his wife and kids hoping to keep them in New York where he can attempt to be a part of their lives. He’s rushing to court when the car driven by Gavin swerves into his lane and forces him to collide with the median barrier. His car is wrecked and will no longer run. As the two attempt to exchange information, Gavin can’t find his insurance information. He’s pretty rich and cares more about getting to court than the accident. He offers Doyle a blank check to repair or replace his car. Doyle is trying to turn over a new leaf and “do everything right”. He insists on following proper accident procedure. Gavin becomes impatient and drives off, leaving Doyle stranded in the middle of the highway.
When Gavin gets to court he discovers he lost his important power of appointment file signed by the deceased man. He dropped it at the accident, and now Doyle has it. The court gives him until the end of the day to present the papers or face charges. Doyle finally arrives at court, but 20 minutes too late. The judge has ruled in favor of the ex-wife in his absence. If characters in movies should have learned one thing, it’s that you don’t back Samuel L. Jackson into a corner. For the remainder of the film these characters are dealing with the consequences of their courtroom failures. But when Gavin shuts off Jackson’s credit to get him to hand over the files, it begins a game of back and forth attempts to get the other. The games escalate as each one gets more and more angry.
The story is a bit overcomplicated, but that’s not why you’re going to watch this movie. You’re going to watch this movie because the real wreck isn’t the accident that sets this thing in motion. The characters are the real train wreck here, and we’ll be compelled to follow them along their self destructive paths out of the same morbid curiosity that causes you to slow down and look at the car accident on your way home from work. Perhaps it makes us feel better about our own train wrecks, but there is something in the human psyche that attracts us to this kind of destruction. Changing Lanes taps remarkably well into that instinct. You’ll watch because you can’t wait to see what each character will do next. We’re like the guy in the office that loves getting others to go at it. “Are you going to take that from him?”, “Did you hear what he said about your momma?” You might not be one of those pot stirrers, but you don’t mind watching the show, do you? For such a predictable story, this movie doesn’t ever run out of steam.
We all know how good Samuel L. Jackson is. Take everything I’ve ever said about the man in a review and place a ditto here. Ben Affleck’s not near as dynamic, but he’s a pretty worthy opponent here for Jackson. But what amazes me most here is how well rounded the supporting characters are. The cast assembled for what amount to peripheral parts is incredibly solid. The late Sydney Pollack is best known as an innovative director, but he’s also not too shabby in front of the camera. Here he is at his best playing Gavin’s father in law who proves every dirty lawyer axiom out there. Amanda Peet has only a few minutes of screen time, but she’s the perfect morally bankrupt high maintenance trophy wife. Kim Staunton is equally good on the other side as Doyle’s ex-wife who wants so desperately to believe Doyle has changed but needs to do what’s best for the kids. Finally William Hurt steps into the shoes of Doyle’s AA sponsor who is attempting to keep him on the right track.
The film’s pace will keep you engaged enough to overlook the rather ridiculous circumstances. The story reaches with several of its exploits. I was also a little disappointed with the conclusion. The characters make out far better than either deserves. It’s a cheat, and this movie and these performances deserved so much better.
Changing Lanes is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. There’s nothing stunning or stylistic about this image. Truthfully, I’m getting a little burned out on all of that artistic integrity out there. This film will never appear to stand out, but it works in a very realistic sense. Colors are completely natural. Lighting’s not always perfect, but it only makes the film appear all the more true to life. You get plenty of sharpness in this high definition transfer. Black levels are solid. It doesn’t look like the techies monkeyed with it very much, so I suspect it’s pretty darn close to the theatrical experience.
The Dolby TrueHD Audio track does a terrific job as well. Again the word is natural realism. You get just enough dynamics to fill your theater with sound, but the mix never overdoes it or calls attention to itself. Dialog is clear, and that’s what drives the film.
The Making Of Changing Lanes: (15:00) SD: This is a promo piece through and through complete with the hype narration. Cast and crew offer synopsis and character descriptions only. No insight to be had here. Plus it doesn’t look very good either.
The Writer’s Perspective: (6:30) SD: The screenwriters talk about the script and their favorite moments.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: SD: There are 3 in total, offering nothing we can’t get out of the movie as it was cut.
While I liked the film, I recognize it might not have a lot of rewatchability. I’d go for the rental. Jackson fans might be a little disappointed. I can’t recall hearing him drop an F bomb in the entire picture. He’s also quite reserved here, for Sam Jackson, that is. You could even say he’s the good guy here. Ultimately there aren’t really any good guys in this movie. If you’re looking for deeper meaning than that, “better luck next time”.