Changing Lanes Review

Apr 23, 2002 | 10:27am EDT

Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is a young high-powered Wall Street attorney working for his father-in-law's firm. On Good Friday Banek is on FDR Drive on his way to court for a probate case involving a multimillion-dollar trust when he gets distracted on his cell phone. One lane over is Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson) an insurance company representative and recovering alcoholic. His wife has divorced him and is planning on leaving New York with their two boys for a job in Portland Ore. unless he can convince a family court judge otherwise. He's practicing his speech on his way to court and while switching lanes doesn't notice Banek's silver Mercedes crossing over. The two cars sideswipe each other. Banek is too impatient to trade insurance information and peels off in his car with a cocky "Better luck next time." What he doesn't realize is that he has left a crucial file in the hands of Gibson who is left standing on a median next to his broken car in a downpour. When Banek's attempt to get the file back fails the two men engage in a bitter war of revenge.

Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor) plays lawyer Gavin Banek a man quickly disillusioned not only by his profession but to a certain extent life. Banek is a complex character: Underneath the arrogance he displays at the start of the film is a nice guy who grapples with issues like everyone else. With every devious move is a bout of guilt and Affleck does a great job reflecting that in his character. Samuel L. Jackson (The Caveman's Valentine) is equally impressive as Doyle Gibson a recovered alcoholic trying to win back his family. Jackson plays Gibson's character with such earnestness you may find yourself taking his side. Both Affleck and Jackson handle their characters' duality delicately and convincingly. The supporting cast members also deliver superior performances especially Toni Collette (Shaft) who plays Banek's co-worker mistress--and ironically--his moral compass and Sydney Pollack (Random Hearts) his corrupt father-in-law and boss. Also look for good performances from William Hurt (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence) and Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman).

In his screenwriting debut Chap Taylor delivers a blunt and hauntingly realistic portrait of what happens when two decent guys are suddenly backed into corners. The story's intensity mounts almost inconspicuously as the two men carry on their hostilities swapping offensive and defensive positions as they try to destroy each other. This aspect of the film not only makes the characters more relatable but it also builds suspense. Each time one of them is ready to end the petty quarrel he receives a blow from the other which in turn makes them both more vengeful. Because the film takes place in one day director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) takes advantage of the time element in the film--a crucial component. With each threat for example is an or else: "It will take me half an hour to get to my bank " Gibson tells Banek when the cards are in his favor. "If my credit's not on by the time I get there I'll destroy the file." Changing Lanes effectively portrays characters that are not all bad and not all good--something many recent films have attempted to do unsuccessfully.

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