Plot: What’s it about?
Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) has it all. He is a rich Wall Street attorney. Barely 30, Gavin has been made a full partner by his father in law (Sydney Pollack). He has a high maintenance wife, Cynthia (Amanda Peet). Gavin became full partner when an aging, and now dead client signed papers dissolving the board of directors of his $100,000,000.00 charity and appointing Gavin’s father-in-law as trustee of the foundation. Of course his client’s grand-daughter is opposing this in probate court. Gavin must make a quick appearance in court to show the judge the Power of Appointment his client signed shortly before his death. A funny thing happened on the way to the courthouse. Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson) has lost it all. A recovering alcoholic, Doyle has worked hard to rebuild his life. He has just been approved for a loan to buy a house in Queens. He will have to return to the bank the next day to finalize the paperwork. His ex-wife Valerie (Kim Staunton in a standout performance) is about to take their two sons and move to Oregon. Doyle hopes that the house he is going to buy will show Valerie that he has changed. He has to appear in court for a custody hearing. Doyle Gibson is about to meet Gavin Banek.
Two men with more on their minds than driving safely. A collision. Gavin receives a call that he is late for court. Doyle insists that the two men handle the wreck properly. He wants Gavin’s insurance information. Gavin is late. He hands Doyle a blank check. Doyle refuses it. Frustrated and blinded by his own self-interest, Gavin says “better luck next time” and leaves the scene of the accident. Doyle can’t leave as his tire is flat. It begins to rain. Doyle notices a file on the ground. It is the power of appointment signed by Gavin’s ex-client. Needless to say, both men have very bad mornings in court. Gavin has until the end of the day to produce the lost file, and Doyle misses the hearing. The judge granted sole custody of the two boys to Kim.
Gavin and Doyle come into contact with each other on the street. Gavin wants the file back. Doyle has thrown the file away. Doyle has lost everything and Gavin had a big hand in it. Doyle walks away from Gavin. Gavin returns to the office. Doyle retrieves the file from the garbage. Gavin lies to his father in law and says everything went well in court. Gavin goes to Michelle (Toni Collette) for advice. Michelle and Gavin had an adulterous affair. She still loves him. She knows someone who can put pressure on people to make them do what you want them to do. Instead of Guido the leg breaker, Michelle puts Gavin in touch with a computer geek who will destroy a person’s financial records for a fee. This event couldn’t come at a worse time for Doyle. Gavin has thrown down the gauntlet. So begins a two man feud which will cause both men to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t do.
The deadly game of chess played by Gavin and Doyle serves as a backdrop to each character’s battle with their own inner demons. Gavin must face the fact that he was involved in a fraudulent dealing with a client who was to old and sick to know what he was doing. Can he deal with the realization so early in life that he is an amoral thief? Doyle must face the pain of real life without alcohol. His ex-wife refuses to put up with his unstable behavior. His AA sponsor (William Hurt) tells him that “Bourbon isn’t your drug of choice, chaos is.” Can Doyle put an end to the private war being waged by he and Gavin?
The best performances in “Changing Lanes” come from the supporting cast. Kim Staunton, who was so good as the long suffering girlfriend of Robert De Niro’s doomed getaway driver in “Heat” steals the show. Valerie is a woman who has had more than she can take. She wants to trust the changes that Doyle has made, but there is to much history. She believes Doyle when he tells her what has happened. It doesn’t matter. “Things like this always happen to you and never to me, unless I let myself enter your gravity!” Sydney Pollack’s decision to become a director was the acting world’s loss. I love his movies, but I wish he would act more often. His few scenes in the movie are excellent.
Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t know how to give a bad performance. The problem here is that his Doyle is a man obsessed. Such men operate on one level. There’s the rub. Doyle is a one note character during the entire feud portion of the film. Gavin on the other hand starts out as an amoral bastard you would love to read about getting gang-raped in jail after being convicted of misappropriating his client’s funds. Ben Affleck is good in a role which shows a lot of the character’s growth. I only wish a more capable actor like Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise had played the part. I’m not one of these folks who thinks the Ben Affleck can’t act his way out of a paper bag. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his movies, but I would have been moved more than I was with a different actor. This leads us to the movement. Movement. That is the real problem with “Changing Lanes.” The films challenges the viewer to think about ethics and morality. It does so without preaching. Had this film been made in the early 70s it probably would have left the audience with an ambiguous ending so that the discussion would continue past the running time of the movie. Instead, the filmmakers let us know where they stands concerning the moral dilemma faced by Gavin and Doyle. What could have been a great movie turns out to be merely good.
Video: How does it look?
Changing Lanes is a gritty, harsh look at the day in the life of two men. Thus, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer reflects that to a tee. While it might not be the best-looking transfer to ever grace the DVD format, it does look quite good. First, I have to say that I was surprised that the ratio was so wide, as I was expecting a film like this to be presented in a flatter (say 1.85:1) ratio. Still, the image is stellar and I saw very little evidence of edge enhancement. The palette is extremely muted, as the majority of the film takes place either during the day or inside an office; but the clarity is very nice and blacks are right on target. For a day and date release from Paramount, this looks exactly how I thought it would. And that’s not a bad thing…
Audio: How does it sound?
The film won’t exactly light up your home theater system, but it does pack a punch when it needs to. Take, for instance, the scene when Gavin’s car wheel comes off. The majority of the film is dialogue-driven as well, so don’t expect something to show off to your friends. I caught the surround effects kicking in a few times, but for the most part the sound stage is limited to the front three channels. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, as the sound more than serves its purpose, but there is certainly better out there. For what it’s worth, this sounds as good as it needs to and doesn’t disappoint.
Supplements: What are the extras?
We have a DVD from Paramount that has a few Special Features here, the first of which is a commentary track from Director Roger Mitchell. Mitchell is very talkative, just as he is in the featurettes, and has a genuine love for the film. I seem to recall a special when the movie first came out about his choice to leave the scene with the World Trade Centers in the film, but I found that absent from the disc. Aside from the commentary track, there is a "Making of…" featurette which is actually pretty interesting. Unlike so many others of its kind, this focuses on the story, why the actors chose the parts they did and how it all came together. Even more interesting is "A Writers Perspective" which focuses on how the story came together. This focuses on what might have happened in the story (watch this after the feature, obviously) should certain characters have done something different. This made me think of the story in a new light and it might have been interesting to see an "alternate ending" given the subject matter here. Three deleted scenes (two deleted, one extended) are also shown, and though it might have been wise to include them, I personally felt the movie stood pretty well on its own. The theatrical trailer is shown in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen ratio in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.