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Up and coming New York lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) changes lanes on crowded FDR Drive and collects Doyle Gipson’s (Samuel L. Jackson) creaky car in a minor collision, while both on the way to a court of law – albeit different ones. But the chain reaction the incident sets off is anything but minor, as both men lose valuable things as a result. Banek’s loss of crucial documents at the scene threatens his rising career while Gipson’s delay puts at risk his links with his two young sons. Both men go to extreme lengths to try and recover what they stand to lose, but neither expects their lives to be changed forever, and certainly not in the way they are.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Small triggers, big explosions – that’s how a child psychologist once summed up the nature of childhood and one of the many challenges of parenting. In Changing Lanes, the same notion is the starting point for a story that puts two strangers into a seemingly minor incident and lets the results unravel in as dramatic a fashion as possible. So far, I’m engaged, because I know from my own life that this is how things go from bad to worse. 

It happens all the time. I go to wipe up the cat sick on the carpet and rip my trousers, and as I throw the dirty cloth into the sink with domestic rage, it hits a glass and sends it crashing just as the phone rings and it’s my wife saying she’s locked herself out of the car. And this isn’t the worst case scenario. The cumulative effect of badly times mini-disasters take on a force so fierce they can end up destroying you. 

To an outsider, you seem to be overreacting. Changing Lanes looks a bit like that, too, but in my view, life is JUST like that. As one door shuts, another one slams in your face. So they’ve made a film of it. Moody, rainy New York is the backdrop, and there’s even rain inside the law firm where Gavin works when the fire sprinklers are set off – on purpose. The rain only stops momentarily, and comes back as a shower at the end. This metaphor is more intriguing than the heavy lawyer bashing the scriptwriters employ: I can see them hitting the keyboard with relish at every line where the legal profession is portrayed as amoral slime oozing over New York city. So that’s another reason to like the film (just kidding) but I also like the performances, even the heavy handed ones. Inside the film’s conflict-powered plot there is a decent moral trying to get out, but it’s not that, it’s the tension that keeps you in your seat. Affleck and Jackson are good sparring partners and bring credibility to the characters, with Sydney Pollack a well-judged legal whore of the highest order.

Special Features reviewed by Louise Keller:
A satisfying group of intelligent features are included in the DVD, canvassing the moral corruption of the characters. I always enjoy hearing from the writers, who often are able to articulate key concepts well, and in the featurette A Writers’ Perspective, we hear some interesting insights from screenwriters Michael Tolkin and Chap Taylor. They talk about what appealed to them in this story of moral consequence. They talk about the pivotal scene in the restaurant when Gavin meets his wife and she uncompromisingly reveals who she really is. ‘This is a scene that does not have any special effects or car crashes,’ says Tolkin, the implication being that the pages of dialogue are every bit as shattering.
“If Gavin had not had the accident, it would have been a little bit like humpty dumpty without the fall.” He adds.

There are a couple of deleted scenes, an extended version of the confessional scene with Gavin and his on-screen brother, but I was unable to find the promised alternative endings. The Making Of features interviews with cast and crew, and there’s a commentary from director Roger Mitchell if you are interested in the many details.

Published October 9, 2003

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CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, William Hurt, Amanda Peet

DIRECTOR: Roger Michell

SCRIPT: Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen enhanced for 16: 9 TVs 2.35-1 Dolby Digital: English 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Director’s Commentary, The making of; A Writer’s perspective featurette; deleted scenes; extended scenes; alternate endings; theatrical trailer.


DVD RELEASE: October 9, 2003

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