Changing Lanes (2002)Rated R for language.
Starring Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Kim Staunton, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack.
LVJeff's Rating: 8/10
Photo ©Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
Sweet Revenge? Not Quite
Not quite what I expected, Changing Lanes looks like it's headed towards showcasing a continuing one-on-one revenge battle. After a freeway accident, Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), a selfish lawyer, and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), a suffering everyman, each have their own particular reasons to inflict miseries upon the other. It would have been easy to watch this "Tag, you're It" match to some kind of sensationalist conclusion, but that's not what this movie is offering. It actually ends up being a layered morality tale.
Changing Lanes illustrates how easy and tempting it is to take the path of petty revenge, and, conversely, how difficult it is to choose to do the right thing. Each of the moves Gavin and Doyle make in the first half of the movie are not only vicious but require a little bit of work, yet each are willing to take these paths to either prove a point or wrest a valuable item from the other. Cleverly, the movie also shows how the revenge cycle encourages itself. Doyle, who has mistakenly come in to possession of a file Gavin desperately needs, is seen several times contemplating just being humane and handing the file over to his nemesis. But lo!, Gavin's latest move manifests itself, and anger prevents Doyle from following his conscience -- instead, he plots the next counter-move.
At first, I was getting excited. I thought this would play out to a crazy climax that would show the frightening depths that revenge can take a human being -- and, to some degree, this is actually achieved about two-thirds of the way through. But the film has a heart and a lesson to teach. The characters question what it means to be good -- whether or not there is a legitimate, compelling reason for deciding to take a higher path. Although this did not appease my appetite for a guilty pleasure, it did win points from me for being thoughtful and intelligent.
I appreciated the film's sentiments, but it did approach a feeling of preachiness by the end of the movie. Also, the desire to contrast the high road and the low road by making the low road very low strains believability. In the course of one day, Doyle is bankrupted and, later, jailed; and Gavin is almost killed in his sabotaged car. Their moves are harsh and definitely ensconced in the fictional realm of movies. Each character's change of heart comes almost too readily relative to their degrees of suffering throughout the day. I suppose this drives the point home harder, but it also makes it seem less subtle.
Still, for thoughtful entertainment, Changing Lanes passes the test. Solid acting from the cast all around and stylish directing from Roger Michell (for a movie that could have easily been shot with straightforward camerawork and lighting) means that this film is one of the better offerings of the year.
NOTE: It's pretty silly that this movie is rated R -- for language only. There's little objectionable in that regard. The movie can be safely viewed by a teen, who might even be able to take a worthy message from it.
©Jeffrey Chen, Oct. 9, 2002