CHANGING LANES (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

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Directed by: Roger Michell

Written by: Chap Taylor, Michael Tolkin

Starring: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, Richard Jenkins, William Hurt, Amanda Peet, Dylan Baker

Is it really so strange to think that a simple road rage can escalate into something even more dangerous? There have been plenty of six o’clock news stories that began with road rage and ended with someone being either injured or killed in the street. CHANGING LANES is a thriller revolving around two very different men whose lives literally collide on the highway and the rapid downward spirals they both take. Featuring a big name case (even at the time) and clearly made with a substantial budget, the film was a box office success and praised among critics. Now that over a decade has passed, it seems like it’s been forgotten in the annals of cinematic history. Although I wouldn’t say it’s a great movie, as it does have some big flaws, it is a decent enough and (at times) unconventional thriller.

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Gavin is a cutthroat successful lawyer. Doyle is a recovering alcoholic. Both men are headed to the courthouse for entirely different reasons. Gavin has to get some files there in order to avoid being sued and Doyle has a hearing for joint custody of his children. After an accident leaves Doyle’s car totaled, Gavin writes a blank check and drives off without even giving the poor guy a ride to the same building he was already going to. Quickly discovering that he left an important file on the side of the road with Doyle, Gavin tries to get the document back. This is difficult, because Doyle is intent on teaching this hotshot lawyer a lesson in ethics. Ironically, this results in a dangerous feud between both men doing horrible things to make the other’s life as miserable as possible.

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CHANGING LANES is remarkable in its buildup to the actual collision itself. The viewer is introduced to both Gavin (Ben Affleck) and Doyle (Samuel L. Jackson). Affleck is usually hollow, but every once in a great while, he puts in a decent performance. Gavin is one of these cases. Samuel L. Jackson is the real standout of the entire film. I felt for the character of Doyle. The sheer amount of frustration he was experienced permeated through the screen and into my own emotions. Needless to say, I was on Doyle’s side the whole way, but other viewers may feel differently. This may be thrown into the same type of character battle as HARD CANDY, meaning that viewer’s may be manipulated into switching sides on more than once. In this respect, an interesting conversation among fellow film buffs might be why you were rooting for who at what point in the film.

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There are plenty of familiar faces in the supporting characters as well. While Toni Collette (THE WAY WAY BACK), Richard Jenkins (KILLING THEM SOFTLY), and Dylan Baker (TRICK ‘R TREAT) show up through Affleck’s storyline, the only real memorable side-character of note in Jackson’s life is his sponsor played by William Hurt (MR. BROOKS). Hurt also delivers the best piece of dialogue in the entire film. You’ll know it when you see it. However, there is one character whose appearance is damn near pointless and that’s Gavin’s seemingly emotionless wife played by Amanda Peet. This actress can range from good to terrible, depending on which movie you’re watching her in. She’s just plain wooden in CHANGING LANES. Some might argue that’s the point of her character, but I feel the purpose she appeared in two scenes for would have been more impactful, if she had more of an emotional range.

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The premise of CHANGING LANES is a great one and could make for a fantastic movie. This is the case for the first hour, then things steadily begin to strain credibility and go over-the-top. The running time is much longer than it should have been. As stated before, the plot is gripping for the first hour and then it significantly overstays its welcome. Just when the film should be at the highest peak of intensity, it decides to wax on about philosophy and how thin the line that separates ethics from chaos is. If the film had saved maybe one intense dialogue for the ending or used the significant one that William Hurt goes on about, that would have been more than enough. Instead, the message is as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face.

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CHANGING LANES begins with a bang and concludes with a whimper. To make matters worse, the ending is tied with a little bow on top that felt out-of-place in the story that had been taking place for the past 90 minutes. Samuel L. Jackson is great as a character unlike many others he’s played. Affleck is better in this film than all of the roles that have earned him the rotten reputation he has among the general public. The real problems come from the overlong running time and the not-so-subtle repeated moral of the story. CHANGING LANES would have been great as a tighter film that stayed true to the tone of the first hour. Instead, it’s a decent watch, but it’s not one that I’ll be adding to my collection. Worth a rental.

Grade: B-

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