Preview by: Jack Foley
Road rage is a modern phenomenon, borne out of mans 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
So when Samuel L Jackson and Ben Affleck collide during a rush-hour
fender-bender on New Yorks 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 Jacksons
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,
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.
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
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 Onions 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 movies
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."