Thanks to the talent of its filmmakers, “Changing Lanes” avoids triteness and finds itself in a unique category: The gutsy studio movie. It delves deep into the human soul and finds some truth about us all. And like any true exploration of humanity, the film finds both dark and redeeming characteristics.
Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson play Gavin Banek and Doyle Gipson, two men who use a car accident as an excuse to engage in self-destructive behavior. Each believes the other is at fault for the wrongs in their lives and takes it out on the other with escalating acts of revenge in a downward spiral of immorality.
Both men know who they don’t want to be, but their strong wills lead them in that direction. Affleck is afraid he may become his father-in-law, played by director Sydney Pollack, a big-time Wall Street lawyer not above stealing, cheating or lying. For Jackson, the man he doesn’t want to be is the abusive alcoholic he once was.
The film’s familiar Hollywood revenge premise is close to “Eye for an Eye” and “Double Jeopardy,” but unlike those horrible films, there is no true hero or true villain. The plot is a bullets-free variation on John Woo’s duality theme.
The film is constantly in danger of becoming a bad movie. One slip and this film could be dismissed as hackneyed. However, the filmmakers’ precision twists the story away from any hint of clich? or heavy-handedness.
The gem of a script allows the audience to understand the characters, leading moviegoers to almost like these two guys despite their evil tendencies. It is rare to see such a truthful depiction of the dark side of the human soul in movie characters who are not trying to take over the world or mutilate co-eds.
The tremendous remorse they experience keeps them from becoming two-dimensional monsters, unlike characters such as Glenn Close’s wronged mistress in “Fatal Attraction,” who become the Terminator by the end of the film. These characters remain human, albeit the darker side of human.
A special mention should go to Pollack, who is great as the evil father-in-law. Pollack is starting to specialize in supporting roles of complete jerks. “Husbands and Wives” and “Eyes Wide Shut” are both examples of his great ability to play an asshole. Too bad his roles are better than his directing projects.
Jackson has always been a great actor, but most of his choices were not wise. In the past he has shown an incredible ability to play soft, as well as to express rage, but has rarely found roles to complement his talents.
Affleck is neither a good nor a bad actor, usually just filling up space as someone you don’t mind. For this film he shows some acting talent to go with the charisma he has been coasting on his entire career.
Bad directing can derail good acting and good writing, but fortunately someone had the foresight to hire Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”). Michell continuously works a fine line throughout the film and avoids the mundane, proving that high concept plots do not have to make bad films. If all of his projects are as good as “Notting Hill” and “Changing Lanes,” Michell should have a very healthy career.
“Changing Lanes” reminds one of the artistic heights of the studios in the 1970s when they released films like “The Conversation,” “Chinatown,” and “The Last Detail.” After the emergence of the blockbuster during the latter part of that decade, artistic filmmaking was left to the independents. Perhaps this film can show other studio executives they can make great movies again.
Staff Writer Stephen Allan can be contacted at: [email protected]