Changing Lanes

Changing Lanes

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Gliding smoothly under the surface of what appears to be a serious film about coincidence and morality is that old black magic called sentiment. The restless camera, the energetic editing, the New York locations, the polished performances give an impression of something clever and different. That's false.

"I came here for meaning," Gavin (Ben Affleck) says to the priest in the confessional. There is a moral to this: good things come to those who do good things.

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Gavin is a lawyer in a prestigious firm that is guilty of questionable practice concerning $3million of an old man's fortune. There is a case pending and Gavin loses a vital document after a minor car crash on the freeway en route to court. The man in the other car is Doyle (Samuel L Jackson), a recovering alcoholic, desperate to keep his family together, despite his wife's determination to take their boys to Oregon without him. He picks up the document, not realising what it is, after Gavin drives away in a rush.

There are many stories being told, each with a beating heart. Gavin married the boss's daughter (Amanda Peet). Already, he is compromised. She is beautiful and smart.

"I could have married an honest man," she tells him. "We're a team, Gav. We're partners."

There is something going on between him and his secretary (Toni Collette), or maybe something has gone on, which is over-but-not-over. She looks at him like a woman who is disappointed by the impossibility of emotional honesty, locked in a place where discretion eats the soul.

Doyle's day is about to be ruined. He tries so hard to do the right thing and become responsible and be seen as a father, not a failure, and stay away from temptation. One step at a time. Yes, he tells himself, goddamit! He is wound so tight, it hurts. And then Gavin twists the knot, in his attempt to get at the document, which makes Doyle mad.

There is a message, not a moral here: work is no replacement for affection. Kids are sacred. Don't take them away. Being a lawyer is being a liar. If you want to make money you have to get your hands dirty. More than your hands.

"It's all a tightrope," Gavin's father-in-law (Sidney Pollack) says. "You gotta find the balance."

In life, things happen you regret and there's nothing you can do about it, because they're done, and you carry around with you "the memory of another life you could have had." Gavin talks to Doyle about this. They understand. Both of them. Does it change anything?

Under the surface, gliding less smoothly now, is a Hollywood movie with Hollywood stars. The package has been beautifully wrapped by South African born, Cambridge educated theatre director Roger Michell. Affleck is Affleck. That's all he can do. Jackson transforms himself from the cool persona that gave Jackie Brown and Shaft a galaxy of style. His performance is carefully laid out, with precision. It assumes an excellence beyond praise. Collette makes every small moment count. She is subtle, like a hand brushing your shoulder.

Films are made of little moments. Changing Lanes tries for more. It doesn't reach them, but the effort is gratefully received.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2002
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Changing Lanes packshot
An ambitious lawyer and a recovering alcoholic have a bad day in New York after a car crash.
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Director: Roger Michell

Writer: Michael Tolkin, Chap Taylor

Starring: Ben Affleck, Samuel L Jackson, Toni Collette, Sidney Pollack, William Hurt, Amanda Peet, Richard Jenkins

Year: 2002

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2002

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