Changing Lanes

on April 12, 2002 by Paul Clinton
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   “Changing Lanes” is a philosophical thriller that digs deeper than the television ads promoting it as a Road Rage movie indicate. Instead of mindless action, “Changing Lanes” opts for a more complex portrait of two New Yorkers who take out escalating vendettas on each other after a traffic accident.

   Ben Affleck plays Gavin Banek, an ethically sketchy Wall Street lawyer high in the ranks of a firm managing a rich philanthropist's millions. Banek embarks on a legal fight to wrest control of the firm away from the granddaughter after the old man dies; he must submit a file signed by the rich man on his deathbed empowering the firm to run the trust fund.

   Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) is an angry father battling for custody of his children as he struggles through divorce proceedings. Gipson is also in a battle with booze. The two meet early on in the story when they sideswipe each other while heading to the courthouse. Banek leaves his all-important file at the scene of the accident and speeds away in his Mercedes while yelling “Better luck next time” to a stunned Gipson. Writers Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin build tension by sticking to the details of the bitter feud as Banek struggles to recover the file.

   The essentially Buddhist message at the heart of the picture--instant karma's gonna get you--unrolls in layer upon layer of new meanings as the movie plays out. The movie's “happy” ending may feel out of place for audiences not familiar with karma, the cycle of suffering and other Buddhist tenets.

   As usual, Jackson's performance provides the heart of the story. Illuminating the idea that things are sometimes not what they seem, Jackson shows us a doting father and persistent husband. He also explores Gipson's demonic side: he twirls a lug-nut wrench sadistically in one frightening sequence. Affleck's character has also been given some depth by Tolkin (“The Player” and “The New Age”) and Taylor. William Hurt shows up briefly as Gipson's AA sponsor, who slaps him with perhaps the best line in the movie. Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, Richard Jenkins and Amanda Peet also have memorable roles. Director Roger Michell (“Persuasion” and “Notting Hill”) provides subtle visual touches along the way.

   As a meditation on the way sadistic impulses can destroy men, “Changing Lanes” sails onto the open road and away from the traffic jams. Starring Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette and Sydney Pollack. Directed by Roger Michell. Written by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin. Produced by Scott Rudin. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 98 min

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