Changing Lanes (2002) dir. Roger Mitchell
Starring: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Sydney Pollack, Toni Collette
'Doing the right the thing', is easier said than done. The characters in “Changing Lanes” live in a world where the best man doesn't win and righteousness and reward are not correlated. Everything in the lives of the films two protagonists are pushing to cut corners, bend the rules and think of themselves before others. “Changing Lanes” is one of the more underrated thrillers of the past 10 years – a morality tale about capitalism, racism, class, and the pressure of life which fall upon everybody no matter what tax bracket you’re in.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Doyle Gibson, a struggling but low tier insurance man with an alcohol problem and a massive temper, both of which has contributed to the breakup of his family. Ben Affleck, in one of his best roles, plays Gavin Banek, a big city lawyer representing a foundation who’s just been left a large sum of money from the death of its rich benefactor. The two collide literally in an accident on the Manhattan freeway. Gibson wants to do the right thing and exchange insurance cards, Banek is too busy and writes him a blank cheque. When Gibson asks for a ride home at least, he’s shrugged off with a condescending remark, ‘better luck next time.’ At court, Banek realizes he mistakenly left an important file with Gibson, which becomes the maguffin to get these two desperate souls to go to battle with each other with white collar brutality.
The fight starts off slowly, Gibson pissed off at Banek’s disrespectful smugness refuses to give him the file. Banek responds by paying a guy to wipe out his credit. It’s a tit-for-tat escalating series of annoyances and then more venomous malfeasance.
It’s a revealing, if not unsubtle screenplay which, via the journeys of these two angry individuals the worst in all us rises to the surface. For Banek, he becomes witness to the corruption which is passed down generation by generation, not single dollar bill Banek encounters isn’t tainted with greed or moral ambiguity. For Gibson, he battles his inner demons, an controllable inner fury, fueled by years of abuse. The intense barroom confrontation with a couple of white guys reveals Gibson’s lifelong frustration with white superiority. Gibson is a man can never get a break, who, despite hard work, has never achieved success. His respite is his family which is now leaving him. Like Banek, he is both a victim and an assailant.
Director Roger Mitchell along with his great cinematographer Salvatore Totino express the simming air of conflict with a sharp grey visual design. Not a washed out picture, but carefully crafted art direction and carefully chosen exterior photography. It’s one drab overcast day in New York.
Gibson and Doyle are only in a few scenes together, but Mitchell keeps them close through creative editing. Affleck’s and Jackson’s scenes are often intercut with each other, and transitioning from one character to another overlapping the sound of one scene over another, seamlessly blending the characters into one space.
“Changing Lanes” remains smart through all three acts. In lesser hands the film could devolved into action and bloodshed in the third act, but it remains a mental battle of wills, both inside and out. Both men, through stubbornness and fear just can’t do the right thing.
“Changing Lanes” is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, featuring running commentary by director, Roger Mitchell, and a forgettable EPK making featurette.