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Changing Lanes

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rated: R (For Language)

Running Time: 98 minutes

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

Screenplay by: Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin
Story by: Chap Taylor

Directed by: Roger Michell

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Roger Michell, The Making Of Changing Lanes, The Writers' Perspective, 2 Deleted Scenes, Extended Scene, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (15 Scenes)

Released: September 10th, 2002

 

 

Hollywood thrillers. Been there, done that. Or so I thought before heading off to the movie theater to see "Changing Lanes" in the spring of 2002. Something about the movie intrigued me, but I don't know what exactly. Hearing the plot, about a fender bender and a lost document had me thinking of what would probably be a typical revenge thriller. Because we know Hollywood: they love to make money on guys hurting each other in what becomes the same basic story with different action scenes, different actors and slight variations.

Yet every now and then, a film will come along to break the mold in a particular genre, or in a way, revolutionize it. "Changing Lanes" is definently one of those movies, and when I thought I had it figured out before I saw it, I glad I was wrong, for seeing it the first time was a rather solid surprised. It is a well executed thriller, but when you strip it all down to its roots, it really is an intense character study about the inner-workings of people, how they think and what darks sides emerge out of them given certain situations.

Notice how I said "character study." The film really is about two people and what they go through during the course of a day. However, there are many times when it is hard to tell the two protagonists apart. While each have their differences, what they do go against themselves all for the sake of pure vengeance. Throughout this life-changing days, they are both "Changing Lanes."

Within the first ten minutes of the movie, Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) get into an accident on the FDR parkway in New York. It's a dismal, rainy day and each are both late for their own respected court appointments. Gavin is a lawyer who needs to get to a make-or-break case that holds key for his future, while the same can be said for Doyle, who happens to be a single father seeking joint custody of his kids in an effort to convince his wife to not move herself and their children to Oregon.

The problem is Gavin's in to much of a rush in going through with the accident properly. Doyle, a reformed alcoholic and trying his best to be who he can, really wants to do everything proper. Despite Gavin's blank check, this is not what Doyle wants. Doyle is a decent man, and desperatly needs to get to court. Affleck refuses to help him out and leaves the accident, but offers four simple words: "Better luck next time."

At the accident though, Gavin drops a key document for his case, which Doyle happens to recover. Gavin needs this document before the end of the day. The document itself is a bit corrupted, which leads to another point of the film. Still, Gavin really needs the document. And while the two protagonists relent at points, they each build up and start their own kind of revenge against the other. Simple to say, it's going to be a long day for Gavin and Doyle, and in the end, they're both going to get a lot out of it - perhaps things they may never have realized during the rest of their lives.

With a top notch cast for the film, you would expect the acting to be flawless and that's what you get. I think Ben Affleck's portrayl as Gavin is his best performance since "Chasing Amy." It is a complex character, and Affleck handles it amazingly well. He shows a rare intensity that he usually does on screen; as man who is technically a hypocrite, and faced with difficult choices throughout his day and how he handles himself, all before changing himself for what is probably the better. In the end, when all of Affleck's work is remembered, this will be a stand out role.

To counter Affleck, play against him, reverse with him and play on the same level as him is Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, who I think is one of the greatest actors of our time, is a smooth fit as Doyle. Jackson builds up Doyle's frustration in perfect dosages, and it's pretty mesermizing in how he controls his emotions without going overboard to give the character a realistic edge. And in those scenes in how he vents his rages, confronts his alcoholism... he's golden. This is simply another great role for Jackson.

While the two leads are perfectly in placed, the supporting cast is just as good. Amanda Peet contributes a smaller role as Gavin's wife, but she's quite effective, especially during her first appearance where she gives a chilling monologue in where you think you know exactly what she's going to say, and then stunningly says the exact opposite (I think that's one of the film's greatest moments). Sydney Pollock, who when I think of I think of film I think of what a great director he is, shows off his acting chops here incredibly well. This is the biggest role I've seen him in awhile, and his chilling performance as Gavin's father-in-law and boss is downright shattering to watch, as the character is someone who has no moral value whatsoever.

Kim Stauton, who plays Jackson's ex-wife Valerie, is rather remarkable and in a sense, unforgiving. She plays it harsh and stern. William Hurt plays Jackson's fellow former alcoholic friend, who gives him some nice pointers in his toughest times. Toni Collette is finely effective as Gavin's secretary and former mistress, the same goes for Richard Jenkins.

The real testament though is the screenplay from Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin. This is one amazing screenplay that captures everything in such a straight forward, well sculpted manner. How everything is molded so perfectly baffles me in how perfect it tends to be. Nothing about the story or what happens is superfluous; every scene serves its purpose and serves its purpose quite well. Nothing is underplayed and nothing is overdone.

Michael Tolkin is a veteran writer (responsible for writing such films as "The Player" and "Deep Impact"), while Chap Taylor, a former production assistant, makes his screenwriting debut here. What the duo create here is something forceful and electrifying. Supported by a fine plotline and natural, pull-no-punches dialogue, the film is able to fall back on its interesting characters, assorted turns (no pun intended) and literary-like themes, motifs and symbolisms.

It would be easy to go the road (no pun intended again) Hollywood tends to take with thrillers, such as the elements I described in the beginning of this review. But thankfully, "Changing Lanes" takes a much more thoughtful course. This is not your standard drama and it certainly is not your standard thriller. I'm not even sure if I would go as far as calling it a thriller. I am more apt to call it a character drama with thriller elements thrown in for good measure.

This film is deep and meaningful. There are several themes tackled throughout, but they are not rubbed in your face. Themes of power, money, morality, doing the right thing and corruption. There are no good guys and there are no good bad guys; it's really just people changing due to certain circumstances and how life presents itself. I suppose this film makes another symbolic point of how life is often used as a metaphor for the ride: you get into accidents, it can be smooth, it can be long, it can be rough, it can be pumpy and it can be a lot of other things.

The film presents a characterization of lawyers that people do tend to stereotype, but it works here. Some people are really like sharks. But there's a ton of symbolisms and motifs that reoccur throughout or appear once to serve their purpose quite well. Be it the trust of wedding rings, the twisted lemon that's half in and out of Doyle's drink, the freedom of the beach and the wealth aspect as well as the another freedom aspect of the boats, or even the irony in how the film takes place on Good Friday as well as key scenes take place in or around Church. Churches are supposed to be a place of solidtary and peace, but the opposite occurs in the Church-based scenes, reflecting darkness, events of the day and the like.

Even though the film takes place over the course of a day, the characters are fleshed out and well developed (perhaps sometimes less is more). Yet what I found so interesting was Affleck's character of Gavin: he seems to be a man with no morals whatsoever (taking advantage of others, cheating on his wife, etc.), but when he's presented by other people to do something he knows is wrong, he questions himself despite what he's done in the past. He knows the difference between right and wrong, so there is a great conflict within himself. It's really amazing when he takes some heart in what his boss says, about the "end of the day." Really good stuff there.

Director Roger Michell, an English chap who's work is probably best known to American audiences for directing the romantic comedy "Notting Hill" does his absolute best work yet with this movie. He captures everything the writers probably sought to express: the intensity, the mad rush and how it is a dark day for the characters. Michell's excellent shooting style feels almost like a documentary. There's a guerilla feel to it at times, and it works downright well to really capture you and get you into the movie.

But what impressed me the most is how Michell quickly captures the little things and doesn't hammer the audience with them. The symbolisms for one: quick shots of the wedding rings on characters fingers at key moments, Church crosses here and there... just a lot of well planned stuff. There are some great little things too, such as how focuses out of Pollack's character toward the end of the film after he tells Gavin he believes he does more right than wrong, and a shot of a car changing lanes after Doyle does a dastardly deed. The film moves at a perfect pace too. You always want to know what happens next, and it never slows down. It's actually a pretty short movie, running a tiny bit over an hour and a half. It's not long and doesn't stretch itself out. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and that's one reason why it's such a good film. On another note, the editing in the film captures the emotions, thoughts and assorted feelings quite well, while David Arnold delivers a great contempo score.

If there's anything that I don't like about "Changing Lanes," it's probably the ending. And the truth is, it's not too bad - especially since the characters reflect on themselves and the events of the day. Things need to get resolved, and people like to see those kind of things when it comes to the conclusion of any type of work. But considering the film's overall content and hard nosed feel, some of the grand finale feels too sugary and nice. I do think it fits after what each protagonist has learned and gone through, but the sudden tone shift felt a little bit out of place to me. That, and a lot of it feels resolved too easily and rather sudden. There could have been a bit more build up when it came down to what happens, and maybe even a little more between Doyle and Gavin. It is predictable. But the important thing is that it's not "out there" or anything crazy, and that it works. I just got a sense that after all the bitterness the movie offers between the characters, I was expecting or feeling compelled the film would offer a more bitter ending. Because hey, not everything works out in life. Then again, this is the movies.

"Changing Lanes" went on to become a well deserved pre-summer hit, but while many raved about it, sad to say, some people downright hated it. Personally though, if you want a thought-provoking film that not only entertains, but will speak to you in some respect, then you will find one something to like about in the film itself. In all, the film is purely classic. Don't miss it.

 

"Changing Lanes" has a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Much like the city streets and sharp, mean nature of the film, this transfer has a gritty, hard-edged look to it that suits is remarkably well. There's a lot of good to the transfer, however, there are some flaws which tend to get in the way. What surprised me the most is that for a recent film, from Paramount no less, it's not as spruced up as it should be. You definently do take notice at the number of blemises, nicks, scratches and little instances on the print. The film's intended look is supposed to be dismal and grey-ish to represent the day the characters go through, but sometimes it's a bit too murky for its own good. There's also some very slight edge enhancment too, which is somewhat noticable. Oh yeah... very slight noise and shimmering here and there too.

Other than those instances, everything else is quite wonderful and goes on to capture not only director Roger Michell's intended look, but what the story is about. Paramount once again delivers excellent fleshtones that look great, while color saturation is fantastic. It's bold and definently captures the rainy day and cold streets of New York City. Detail, be it on the parkway, the streets or the office, is really good. Shadow detail and black levels hit all their marks perfectly as well. Overall, this transfer really captures Michell's intended look despite some unfortunate minor flaws.

 

The film's main audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital English track, and while I found some of it slightly disappointing, it holds up very well and fits the film in a strong manner. What I found disappointing is that the film has key two accidents on the FDR parkway, and they're not really surround driven at all. The main life-changing accident and another big one could have been great in the surrounds department... but for the most part, it's really front channel orriented and sounds slightly limited. Even though they're quick, they are key and that is a shame. There could have been much more of a punch to each of them.

Despite that, the track is quite suitable and there are good surround effects. Be it cars whizzing, water dropping out of the law firm's sprinkler system or the city streets, it's all quite ample. Dialogue is pretty crisp and clear, while David Arnold's fantastic score feels quite right through the channels. Fidelity is good and dymanic range is also good too. The 5.1 mix doesn't break any new ground, but for the film, it's perfectly fine. Also included are English Dolby Surround and French Dolby Surround tracks, plus English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Ah, this makes me a happy lad. This excellent movie isn't shafted by Paramounts in the supplements department, and gets its fair share of goods here that are not only satisfying to give you more value for your dollar, but gives you a lot more insight onto what it took to make this stirring character drama.

The DVD has two featurettes. The Making Of Changing Lanes seems to be your usual promotional fluff. Lasting fifteen minutes, featuring behind the scenes footage and clips from the movie (topped off with a cheesy announcer), much of this featurette is full frame interviews with Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Roger Michell, Toni Collette and Syndey Pollock. They talk about what they like about the movie, what it's about and what it means to an extent. You won't find anything new, but there are worse ways to spend fifteen minutes. I think this featurette has too much clips of the movie, and needed more interviews.

The Writers' Perspectives is excellent. Besides some behind the scenes shots as screenwriters Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin talk and some clips from the film here and there, each gives their own perspective on the characters, what the story means, the themes, their favorite scenes and additional insights, as if the day between the characters didn't happen then what would have probably had happen. It's nice to see the writers give their own input and that they are showcased. Tolkin is particuarly insightful here. This is short, but well made. It lasts a little under six and a half minutes, and is presented in anamorphic widescreen (woohoo!). Do yourself a favor though: watch the movie first. This has a ton of spoilers in its mere six and a half minute running time.

The Audio Commentary with Director Roger Michell is excellent. He doesn't give a formal introduction, but gives a lot of interesting production stories and thoughts on the movie. He really gives a lot of interesting thoughts on the themes, the characters, shooting around New York and the production challenges he faced to keep things consitent. Michell perfectly gives all the right meaning to the movie, offers great praise to the cast and crew and really just a lot of interesting insights, thoughts and stories on what it took to make the movie. Fascinating and well balanced, so if you're a fan of the movie, do give yourself a listen to this.

Two Deleted Scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, lasting about five minutes together. "Interview With Gordon Pinella" has Gavin interviewing a firm hopeful, which doesn't go anywhere really (though I believe a tiny clip of this scene is used in the film where Gavin talks with Michelle). The other, "Artie Crenshay," has Doyle's boss confront him and it just repeats what the audience already knows. No reasons are given why they are cut, but you can tell why since they don't really do much for the movie. The single Extended Scene, "Confessional," lasts a little over four and a half minutes. Why this excellent scene was trimmed down is beyond me. No reasoning on the trimming is given here either, and it's also in non-anamorphic widescreen. All these scenes are fully edited.

There's also a Theatrical Trailer in non-anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. I'm still wondering why the writers featurette is the only anamorphic feature. Hmm. I wish studios could stay consistent.

 

"Changing Lanes" ranks as not only one of my favorite films of 2002, but it also goes down in my book as one of the best character dramas that I've ever had the pleasure of watching. People are sure to judge "Changing Lanes" as a by the book, Hollywood thriller. However, beyond the surface, it's nothing like that at all. Supported by great dialogue, fabulous directing, a masterful story and intense acting, this is really filmmaking at its finest which can be enjoyed by all kinds of audiences. Paramount has also given the film excellent treatment with a submersive 5.1 mix, very good transfer and nicely suited extras. This surely makes a great rental, but if you're a fan of great filmmaking, I'd probably go out and buy it.