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Changing Lanes (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by director Roger Michell; Making of Changing Lanes (14 mins); 'A Writer's Perspective' featurette (6 mins); Deleted and extended scenes (9 mins); Theatrical trailer.

MORALITY tales, told from a Hollywood perspective, usually become heavy-handed, preachy affairs which seldom have the conviction to challenge the perceptions of viewers and really make them ask questions.

It is refreshing, therefore, to find that Changing Lanes seldom pulls its punches, plunging viewers into an intriguing moral dilemma from the outset and constantly surprising them with the directions the story takes.

Ben Affleck and Samuel L Jackson star as two men who collide during a rush-hour fender-bender on New York’s crowded FDR Drive while on the way to two important meetings.

For Affleck’s cocky lawyer, Gavin Banek, the collision is a minor nuisance, best resolved with a quick pay-off and an even speedier getaway, so as not to be late for court, where he is wrestling for control of a late client’s charitable trust. The only trouble is that, in his haste to get away, Affleck leaves a document which is important to the case.

For Jackson’s Doyle Gipson, however, the collision means much more. His car is totalled and he, too, needs to get to court to prevent his wife from getting sole custody of his children and moving away. The accident means he is late.

However, he does possess Banek’s document, so when the two meet again and Banek attempts to turn on the charm in a bid to get it back, an irate Jackson holds it to ransom, sparking an escalating battle of wits between the two, which threatens to destroy them both.

It would be easy to dismiss the movie, at this point, as a mere good guy versus bad guy/David v Goliath tussle, with Jackson taking the form of the wronged everyday man, trying to get his life back in order against insurmountable odds.

But Notting Hill director, Roger Michell’s movie is far more complex than that. Affleck may start off as arrogant and extremely career-driven, but the events of the day force him to confront the realities of what his life is becoming, even though the lengths to which he goes in order to retrieve the document becoming increasingly more cut-throat.

Jackson, meanwhile, is a reformed alcoholic, ‘addicted to chaos’, who seldom avoids confrontations no matter what the cost to himself. He is a hot-head, prone to violence, who ruined his marriage long before the events of this particular day.

Both men find themselves wrestling their own inner demons as much as each other during the course of their battle and it is this, more than anything, which makes the film so compelling.

Jackson is typically towering as Gipson, effortlessly toying with the viewers’ emotions as a man desperate to do the right thing, but driven by his own inability to back down from any given situation, while Affleck is probably better than he has been for some time, making the most of some quality material and living up to the potential first showed with turns in the likes of Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting.

But the leads are ably supported by a first-rate support cast, with Sydney Pollock's shadowy business partner a particular highlight, along with Toni Collette, as a former love interest, and Amanda Peet, as Affleck's designer wife, all making their mark and given time to do so.

Michell’s direction remains tight throughout, seldom allowing proceedings to become bogged down in unnecessary sentiment, or too focused on one character.

If the ending feels a little contrived, the movie can just about be forgiven, for this is, in the main, riveting stuff - an intelligent, gritty, well-observed take on the state of modern society, which isn’t afraid to point a finger at what it has become. I am sure that audiences will find elements of Gipson and Banek in all of them.

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