“Changing Lanes” crashes low expectations with complexity

Ted Pigeon

Judging by the trailers, “Changing Lanes” appears to be one of those “revenge is sweet,” thriller-type movies. But don’t be deceived by the previews, because there is so much more to this film than it has been made out to be.

It tells the story of two men who are involved in a minor car accident that changes their lives in so many ways. The film is a stunning achievement, with brilliant performances all around and a plethora of underlying meanings and messages that probe deep into a great many things.

The movie starts at the beginning of a day for two men, one a young, powerful lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and the other a poor alcoholic, Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson). When they are both in a hurry to get to court for seperate reasons, they have a minor car accident in which neither of them is hurt. When fumbling for his insurance card, Banek finally apologizes and offers Gipson a blank check, which he doesn’t want because he wants to do it the right way. But Banek is in such a hurry he gets back in his car and leaves Gipson stranded only so that he could make his trial on time, not because he wanted to.

It turns out that Gipson is 20 minutes late for his hearing and his life is going to suffer for it, since it involves custody of his children and everything that he holds dear. If he had made it on time, everything probably would have been fine. And now his life begins a downward spiral because of those 20 minutes. Banek, surprisingly enough, is placed in the same position when he realizes in court that he is missing a file that he desperately needs in the defense of his firm. He accidentally left it with Gipson at the scene of the accident.

Banek needs to retireve the file and Gipson needs his time back, and neither is possible. They are both inevitably pushed into corners and have to resort to their anger in order to get out of their situations. Neither of them wants it to get worse, but it inescapably does for both characters. They both come a long way in this day, and what each of them realizes is that his own anger is far more dangerous than the other man’s.

The movie brilliantly intercuts between the lives of these two men who rarely share the screen together. It delves deep into the morals of each man and the values upon which they were built. Both of these characters are good people, no matter how immoral they may seem. They are also both very flawed, which is why this film plays out so tragically. Their entire quarrel happened because of a few irresponsible mistakes made by both of them on something that wasn’t even their fault. And after those mistakes, they were forced to do some of the things they did, because they certainly didn’t want to. They aren’t out for blood; all they want is for everything to return to the way it was before the accident. But each character knows they can’t change what already happened.