Changing Lanes (R)
Some days, you just shouldn't get out of bed. Those are the days when you get cut off on the way to work, or you're late to a court appointment, or you lose a very important file, or you go to a bar and stare at a bourbon even though you've been attending AA for years, or you find out your boss has made you party to defrauding a charity.
For Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), these things, and many more, happen all on one very bad Good Friday in Manhattan when the two of them get into a traffic accident on the way to court. Gavin is on the way to probate court to deliver a signed power of attorney that will deliver control of a $100 million charity to the partners of his law firm. Doyle is headed to family court to try to convince the judge not to award sole custody of his two sons to his wife who is moving to Oregon. The two get into an accident on the FDR expressway, Gavin leaves both his file and Doyle on the side of the road, and there begins the very, very bad day for both men.
Changing Lanes is a rather creditable movie. There are a few too many Screenwriting 101 devices (like the document that has to be delivered by 5 o'clock), but the simplistic plot devices are easily forgiven as each man begins to turn up the heat on the other.
Both Affleck and Jackson are strong in the film, although Jackson outshines the newbie by quite a margin. Affleck's pained WASPiness as he confronts the devil's bargain he has made by becoming law firm partner at age 29 doesn't have a lot of depth, but it doesn't really need it -- his compromises are pretty obvious and close to the surface. Jackson pulls off another solid performance as a middle-class man who can barely contain the chaos of his life beneath his insurance license and AA meetings. The moments when he simply stands still and thinks are some of the best in the film.
The two are backed up by a compelling supporting cast. Gavin's father-in-law and law partner, played by Sydney Pollack, goes from smarmy to threatening in the blink of an eye. Pollack isn't a very polished actor, but he has a kind of transparency in his speech that is refreshing and compelling. Doyle's wife (Kim Staunton) has only a few scenes, but in each manages to convey, more strongly than Jackson himself, the havoc that Doyle has wreaked on their family. And these are only two of at least five strong supporting performances.
The armature of the film is also well done. Director Roger Michell and editor Christopher Tellefsen do an excellent job of pacing, ratcheting up the stakes bit by bit. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino captures a very gritty New York in the rain, going over the Triborough Bridge, in family court, so the film is visually interesting without being arty.
Changing Lanes isn't a masterpiece of filmmaking -- and its answers come a little bit too easily -- but for a product of the Hollywood studio system, it does a much better job than most at showing the moral ambiguity and complexity possible in one crazy, messed up, very bad day.
-- Andrea Lucard