9 April 2002 | sumitagarwal
Changing Lanes: A turn for Hollywood? (8 stars)
When `Changing Lanes' first opens, the viewer is presented with a montage of jagged credits, trendy jerking photography cruising NYC streets, and electronic beats that are so cool they could be used for cryogenic freezing. It quickly seems apparent that this film is simply a star-vehicle for Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson; it seems apparent that this is a cold and impersonal genre-exercise for a successful comedy director, Roger Michell (`Notting Hill'), to branch out; it seems to be all these things until the end of this sequence when the camera glances out the window of a school bus out onto the New York City skyline, and there we see it: the World Trade Center. Unlike Sam Raimi's upcoming `Spider-Man', delayed after September 11th so that the WTC could be digitally removed, this is a film unafraid to date itself, and unafraid to look at human truth.
Affleck plays the role of the oddly named Gavin Banek (did they take the name Ben Affleck', throw it in a blender, and add some new letters for good measure?), a high-power lawyer on the verge of becoming one of the partners at his law firm, alongside his father-in-law. Jackson is Doyle Gibson, a reforming alcoholic father of two clawing his way out of his hole and trying to save his marriage. On a critical day in both their lives, Doyle going to court to try winning joint-custody, and Gavin on his way to seal his career-making case, the two get into a minor accident on the FDR turnpike, causing Doyle to miss his hearing and Gavin to accidentally give Doyle a signed document that is critical to his case
and it all unravels from there.
The two tumble in a daylong haze of malice and self-destruction, sabotaging each other's lives. Whenever either decides to throw in the towel and do the right' thing, it is too late and the other has already escalated it to the next level. His life quickly falling down around him, Gavin begins to examine it for the first time, taking a deep look into his wife, his law firm, his boss/father-in-law, and himself
ultimately questioning his motivation for trying to retrieve the document in the first place.
This is where the film really shines: many movies ask the question what makes a man?' but `Changing Lanes' does it with honestly and authenticity. The screenplay, by Chap Taylor, asks if it is success, or if its providing for one's wife and kids, or if its true goodness, avoiding superficiality and delving into the motivations for each. In one telling monologue, Gavin's father-in-law, played with perfect tone by Sydney Pollack, says, `At the end of the day, I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got?' Unfortunately, the movie does not really ask the question of what makes a woman, even though both wives show real strength. The movie does not even seem to suggest that Gavin and Doyle's struggles could even be applied to women (obviously they could, had the movie explored that).
Jackson, always an excellent actor, is great as Gibson even if he has performed better before. Surprisingly, in this film Affleck's acting actually seems to surpass Jackson's in this amazing performance that is probably the best we have seen from Affleck so far.
All of the characters in the film, including minor-roles and extras, all exhibit a very human feel, and seeing real-feeling people on the screen has always been something rare and not to be taken for granted. The viewer comes to care about everyone in the picture: Gavin, Doyle, their wives, the guy at the bank, even the stranger at the bar.
New York City itself is alive in this movie: it breathes, coughs, and gasps with Salvatore Totino's shaky, unsaturated, claustrophobic photography. Totino really looks at people and the city in the face, and does not try to make them prettier or uglier than they are. David Arnold's original electronic score is a refreshing change from the very poor attempts at orchestral music that most movies are now filled with. Arnold's score very effectively sets the mood and reinforces the tempo of the movie.
`Changing Lanes' is a success for Roger Michell that shows us that a movie can have major stars, be entertaining, glossy, substantial, and pensive all-at-once.
`Changing Lanes' is rated R for a fender-bender, destruction of office equipment, unseen infidelity, a shot of the World Trade Center, and honest depiction of the human condition.