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Changing Lanes - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

Road rage is a modern phenomenon, borne out of man’s increasing need to get somewhere in the quickest way possible. The pace of modern life, and the stresses it creates, can be directly attributable to the way in which a man or woman can over-react to the smallest thing.

So when Samuel L Jackson and Ben Affleck collide during a rush-hour fender-bender on New York’s crowded FDR Drive, the meeting which results triggers a chain reaction that threatens to decimate the lives of both men.

Changing Lanes, the new film from Roger Michell (the man behind Notting Hill), is that rarest of commodities - an intelligent urban thriller which actually has something sensible to say about modern society, while pulling its audience this way and that.

Affleck is high-powered attorney Gavin Banek, a lawyer who is late for court but destined for the top, who collides with Jackson’s recovering alcoholic, Doyle Gipson, a father who is desperate to get to the same court to establish the right to see his children.

Their collision is routine, even fleeting (as Affleck makes a hasty escape), but the events which follow turn these two strangers into vicious adversaries with a common aim - to systematically try and dismantle the other's life in a reckless effort to reclaim something he has lost.

As Michell notes when deciding to take on the project: "The script immediately captured my imagination. It's about a chance meeting between two men that spins them out of their orbits, causing them to behave in irrational, strange and violent ways. You just don't expect the steps these guys will take to get at each other."

One of the many tasks in bringing the project to fruition, however, was tackling the weather. Changing Lanes takes place during the course of 36 hours around Good Friday, in the spring. It was, however, filmed during the dead of winter, from December through early March, and shooting had to be constantly adjusted around the weather, so that not a trace of snow would appear on screen.

For the scenes taking place in the steady rain, however, the company had to manufacture its own foul weather, with the help of giant, overhead sprinklers.

In addition to manipulating the weather, Michell and crew had to film two accidents - one, a routine fender-bender; the other, a life-threatening crash involving one of the two principals. To do this, much of the film was shot on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule, which enabled the production to shut down one of New York's major traffic arteries, FDR Drive, for the first time in the history of NY City filming.

But the demands of the shoot did little to dampen Michell's enthusiasm for it, as he concludes: "Life is full of arbitrary little accidents like the one that propels these guys into such troubled waters. It's not a good guy/bad guy story. It's about standing on the brink of doing the right thing, or not."

On the strength of the critical reaction to the film, Michell is yet another British director making a very big name for himself State-side, following on from Christopher Nolan and Sam Mendes.

US reaction

Reaction to the film in America was largely positive, with many paying tribute to the mature way in which it treated its audience.

Leading the tributes is Slant Magazine, which described it as ‘a rare example of studio filmmaking evocatively concerned with the nature of morality’ and awarded it three out of four stars.

E! Online said that ‘this adept and stylish pileup is hard to not look at’, while USA Today proclaimed that it ‘doesn't take a wrong turn’ and awarded it three out of four.

The Onion’s A.V. Club praised its ability to ‘find gray areas of its own’, while the Chicago Sun Times declared that it is ‘one of the best movies of the year’ (a line which, predictably, earned it pride of place on the movie’s poster!).

FilmCritic.com felt that it was ‘thought-provoking, and sophisticated’ and awarded it four and a half out of five stars, while the Chicago Tribune described it as ‘a thrilling ride, but also a thoughtful one’.

The New York Times, however, broke with the praise and referred to the movie as ‘deeply flawed’, but this was one of the only genuinely damning verdicts, as even those who were mixed found something to praise.

The Los Angeles Times referred to it as ‘maddening yet watchable’, while Rolling Stone dismissed it as being ‘unlikely to inspire audiences to sign up for a course in anger management’.

The final word on the subject, however, goes to Entertainment Weekly, which awarded it a B and referred to Changing Lanes as ‘a movie about moral conundrums, and more specifically, talk about moral conundrums. Which is to say, it's self-consciously in love with its own words’.

Their critic, Lisa Schwarzbaum, concluded by writing the following: "It's telling, I think, that the most compelling character in this passion play is a relatively minor figure, Banek's unflappable, generous, corner-cutting, law-breaking father-in-law, who is so easily and comfortably played by Pollack that you'd follow him into even the grayest of ethical zones.

''At the end of the day, I do more good than harm,'' he explains. The lack of resolution about that equivocal position is welcome -- something in the text actually worth discussing in the American Church of the Studio Movie."

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