Ben Affleck is Gavin Banek, a young Wall Street attorney on the fast track to becoming partner at his father-in-law's well-respected law firm. His on-the-go lifestyle takes him from the office to the courthouse, then on to charity events and back to the office for interviews and meetings. Samuel L. Jackson is Doyle Gibson, an insurance agent and recovering alcoholic engaged in a custody battle with his wife for their two young boys. He has just qualified for a new house and is trying to get back on his feet again.
The worlds of these two men suddenly collide during the morning rush hour on New York's crowded FDR Drive as they head to respective court appearances. Gavin feels his time is much too important to exchange information, so he hastily scribbles out a blank check to Doyle for the damages. Gavin quickly flees the scene, leaving Doyle stranded in the rain with nowhere to go.
But Doyle loses his custody rights as a result of his tardiness to court. Gavin's case is postponed until he regains a file he left behind at the accident scene. Doyle now possesses the file. With his career and the fate of the law firm on the line, Gavin takes extreme measures against Doyle to pressure him into returning the file. Equally frustrated by his own circumstances, Doyle refuses to return the file and instead, counters Gavin's aggression with equally damaging results.
Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) does a fine job establishing each character during the film's opening sequence. Despite coming from two seemingly different worlds, the lives of both men are ruled by a similar chaos. Gavin speaks to a gathering of children at an upscale fundraiser while Doyle attends an AA meeting in a dank, overpopulated room. The film alternates between the two men with the audio from each man's world intersecting the other. Michell uses this editing technique to foreshadow their eventual encounter on the highway. This same production design is used with great effectiveness throughout the film to reinforce the parallel struggles exacerbated by the choices both men make.
Changing Lanes focuses on the ethical decisions these characters make and the consequences their actions have on those around them. While Gavin chooses to make life miserable for Doyle, those at his law firm deal with the situation in a way that has a greater moral impact on Gavin and his family. Once Gavin recognizes how his actions have also negatively impacted Doyle's wife and kids, he feels the need to help rectify the wrongs he has made. The same thing happens with Doyle. After his dealings land him in jail, further complicating his troubled relationship with his family, Doyle's AA sponsor (William Hurt) helps him realize his true addiction is to chaos, not alcohol. He chooses to confront his hostility rather than fighting it and returns the file to Gavin.
The movie stays in the fast lane with compelling performances by a stellar ensemble cast. Affleck is convincing as the selfish young man desperate to make whatever choices will keep his career moving upward. As a father in crisis struggling to stay clean of alcohol and bring his family together, we easily identify with Jackson's Doyle. In a supporting role, Sydney Pollack is ruthless as Gavin's boss, and Kim Staunton is equally solid playing Doyle's wife.
Changing Lanes is much larger than its unfortunate trailer. The film is simple in its approach yet is highly complex and provocative with the handling of the ethical consequences facing its characters. Even though Changing Lanes finishes a little too polished, the ending is fully justifiable within the context of the characters' actions and their revelations. We leave the theater pondering what will happen next
It's easily the best mainstream movie this year.
The DVD adds a commentary from Michell, a couple of deleted and extended scenes, and a few featurettes. None of this is very compelling, though. In the end, the film stands perfectly well on its own.
Forgot your turn signal, Ben.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th April 2002
Box Office USA: $66.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $94.9M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Fresh: 116 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Roger Michell
Producer: Scott Rudin
Starring: Ben Affleck as Gavin Banek, Samuel L. Jackson as Doyle Gipson, Kim Staunton as Valerie Gipson, Toni Collette as Michelle, Sydney Pollack as Stephen Delano, Matt Malloy as Ron Cabot, William Hurt as Doyle's Sponsor, John Benjamin Hickey as Carlyle