Changing Lanes

Ever have one of those days. You know, one that begins in the toilet and only gets worse as the day drags on?

That’s what happens to Wall Street lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and insurance salesman Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson). Two diversely different men whose mid-morning collision on the FDR Expressway in New York is about to turn them into the same animal.

Prepare to brake for director Roger Michell’s “Changing Lanes,” a riveting dichotomy about how indifference can turn rational men into monsters.

“Changing Lanes” is by far the best new adult film this year, a powerful reminder of what can transpire when good talent gets together to make a good film. It’s nearly impossible to not get wrapped up in the character’s predicament. How many of us can honestly say we have not entertained thoughts of retaliation while driving in our vehicle? The only thing that stops us from putting the pedal to the metal is common sense.

For Banek, common sense is a commodity that is in short supply. In a hurry to get to court for an important hearing, Banek has no time to make amends when he sideswipes Gipson’s car. Oblivious to Gipson’s pleas, Banek takes off, leaving behind a blank check and an important file.

What Banek doesn’t realize, or even bother to inquire, is that Gipson is also on his way to court, desperately trying to stop his wife Valerie (Kim Staunton) from gaining sole custody of their two sons and moving to Oregon. A recovering alcoholic who has been getting his life together, Gipson has come up with a plan to keep his family near him. Arriving twenty minutes late, Gipson is traumatized to learn that the decision has been made in his absence.

In the same courthouse, Banek is equally flustered to learn that the file he left behind is an original document that can win his case. A chance encounter outside the courthouse between Banek and Gipson sets the stage for a battle of wills that will force both men to come face to face with their dark side.

How far would you go to get even with someone? Gipson doesn’t want money, he wants his twenty minutes back. Banek wants the file, but is so wrapped up in his miserable life that he never sees the forest through the trees. Instead of sitting down and discussing what he can do to help Gipson, Banek uses his money and power to turn his life upside down.

Gipson is forced to use more conventional means to retaliate, but when the day is done the two men will learn more about themselves than each other. Banek is on track to become partner, but as the day’s events slowly take their toll on him, he begins to reevaluate his priorities.

Gipson rightfully blames Banek for sidetracking his morning, but wrongfully blames him for his life situation. It takes some severe emotional blows to help him recognize that the only person who is responsible for his current state of affairs is himself.

The thoughtful screenplay by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin is the perfect melding of raw human emotion and soul searching. Banek and Gipson have to dig deep into their hearts and souls before they’re capable of standing back and seeing the sorry state they have gotten themselves into.

There isn’t one bad performance in “Changing Lanes.” Jackson makes it easy for us to believe in his plight, and his frustration and anger are so real they become intense. Jackson is especially strong in a bar scene where he confronts two advertising executives who have a blurred vision of the world. Even though Gipson takes the confrontation to a violent level, we still stand by him.

Affleck is so affable as Banek that even though we don’t agree with his choices, we believe he can be redeemed. We haven’t seen this side of Affleck since “Good Will Hunting,” and it’s nice to know that he can still carry roles with emotional weight. The scene where Banek’s materialistic wife Cynthia (Amanda Peet) confronts him with the reality of their relationship is one of the actor’s best moments.

The women are especially strong in “Changing Lanes,” another script attribute. Toni Collette is hard hitting as Banek’s secretary and mistress who is disappointed that he has been seduced by power, while Amanda Peet delivers a chameleon-like performance as a woman who understands the game and is willing to play it. Kim Staunton is also strong as Gipson’s ex-wife who understands that love and responsibility go hand in hand.

Michell, the director of “Notting Hill,” may seem like an odd choice to direct “Changing Lanes,” but a closer inspection of the romantic comedy reveals he’s the perfect choice. Like “Notting Hill,” “Changing Lanes” is character driven. If we can’t invest in the characters, everything else they do becomes oblivious. Michell never shortchanges us.

“Changing Lanes” is thought-provoking and timely, a film that says so much about people and the choices they make.



Jackson and Affleck tempt fate in Changing Lanes


Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, Kim Staunton, Richard Jenkins, Amanda Peet. Directed by Roger Michell. Rated R. 99 Minutes.


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