Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, William Hurt, Amanda Peet
Director: Roger Michell
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: September 10, 2002

“Sometimes God just likes to put two men in a paper bag and just let ‘em rip.”

Film ****

Rarely does a mainstream movie emerge from Hollywood, let alone a thriller, that is grounded in reality at every step of the way in terms of human interaction and emotions. Changing Lanes is such a movie. It’s a thriller that involves a deep moral complexity, which is a true perfect basis for a suspense tale. It’s sharply written screenplay is such a masterful one which pulls the rug right up from at multiple turns. Your jaw drops with amazement at every angle when one character is about to do the right thing, only to come across something that causes him to do the absolute opposite, sending you the viewer in countless directions as a result. For a major studio to release such a movie involving such realism and authenticity in a story shows an act of daring on their part, which is remarkable. In short, this is a brilliantly thought-provoking movie for which nothing can really prepare you for.

Changing Lanes centers on a day in the lives of two men from very different walks of life who are both in modes of immediate desperation upon their chance encounter. Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is a young Wall Street attorney who is married to the daughter of the head of the law firm he represents. Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) is a working class man and a recovering alcoholic, who is painstakingly trying to put his family back together by way of buying a house for them. Both men are on their way to court for different reasons. Gavin has to present some documents for case involving money being taken from a dying millionaire, while Doyle has to be at a custody hearing.

On their way to their separate hearings, the two encounter each other through a fender bender on the FDR. Gavin gets out seeing that the other man is okay, but at the same time is nerve-shocked about how late to his court meeting he’ll be. He willing writes Doyle a blank check for his troubles, but Doyle wants to do this the right way. When rejecting his check, Gavin frustratingly flees the scene, abandoning the scene of the accident. Upon arriving to present his case, Gavin realizes he left a crucial document at the scene of the accident, which has no doubt fallen into Doyle’s possession. He’s been given until the end of the workday to retrieve the document, or possibly face criminal charges.

Doyle also gets a slap in the face as a result of the accident. He is late for his hearing, enraging his estranged wife, and possible cutting Doyle off from ever seeing his two sons. What now begins is nothing short of a hot headed game of cat and mouse between the two strangers. After Doyle faxes Gavin a copy of the document with the phrase “BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME”, which is what Gavin said to Doyle before leaving the scene, Gavin decides to retaliate by taking advice from his colleague and former mistress (Toni Collette), who knows a guy who helps with things that need helping out. Gavin goes to meet the man (Dylan Baker), who destroys Dolye’s credit with just one push of a button on a computer, destroying any chances of getting the loan he was promised for the house. This scene really gave me the chills because it shows how little it takes to destroy something valuable in one’s life.

The credit being erased blows a fuse in Doyle, and the cat and mouse game escalates to dangerous circumstances, and that alone is the heart of Changing Lanes, which is a thoroughly realized account about the psychological limits everyday people can be pushed to, and the realism sticks with the story from first frame to final frame.

For the two lead actors, this ranks among their most solid work ever. I’ll start with Ben Affleck in saying that of all the terrific movies I’ve seen in him, from Good Will Hunting to Dogma, his performance here is his most excellent and superb to date. Affleck is one of those actors you simply can’t help but enjoy watching in any movie, whether it’s a romantic comedy like Chasing Amy or an action flick like Pearl Harbor. But in Changing Lanes, he is given his most morally challenged character to date, and he pulls it off with flawless brilliance.

Then there’s the great Samuel L. Jackson, who may just be one of the great versatile actors of all time. Having just revisited his work as wisecracking gangster Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction and money-hungry gunrunner Ordell Robbie in Jackie Brown, and then seeing a completely different character as Doyle Gipson, it shows the brilliant range that Jackson carries within him. Both Doyle and Gavin are not entirely sympathetic, but at the same time we do not want either of them to destroy each other, and that's another marvel of how complex the script and these characters are.

The supporting cast also shines, including Sydney Pollack as Gavin’s boss at the firm/father in law and Amanda Peet, who plays Gavin’s wife. She has a stunning scene in a restaurant where she encourages him to consider engaging in an unlawful task, as a favor to her father that concerns the mysterious document, which includes intimate information Gavin doesn’t even know about. The speech she delivers to him is one so startling, and one that I certainly know any man would not want to hear from his wife.

Changing Lanes remains sky high in my ten best year list for 2002, and will doubt end up remaining on that list. It is such a remarkable surprise of a movie, and by far one of the most outstanding films in recent memory to carry with it a conscious-laden social commentary.

Video ***1/2

This anamorphic offering from Paramount is in every way the kind of top quality we’ve come to expect from the studio when it comes to transferring newer offerings to disc. The picture quality shines the whole way through, with exuberant and sharp rendering, capturing the NYC set to the bravest and fullest extent. The disc’s only minor flaw is a scene or two of light dimming during some darkly lit moments, but that hardly strays from the overall quality of the look.

Audio ***1/2

Paramount by far exceeded my expectations with their quite terrific job on the audio quality, since I remember Changing Lanes as being mostly a dialogue-driven film. The 5.1 mix delivers right from the start, which is a nicely done credit sequence backed up by a neat score by David Arnold. Dialogue is heard in a consistent perfectly clear tone the whole way through, and a key scene where Gavin’s car has a bit of a tire problem is a pure standout moment. A terrifically done presentation from Paramount.

Features ***1/2

Here, we get the amount of extras I so wish Paramount would apply to their catalog of older titles. Included is a full-length commentary by director Roger Michell, which is quite a good listen. Also featured are 2 documentaries, behind the scenes featurette as well as one titled A Writer’s Perspective Featurette. In addition, there are a couple of deleted scenes, as well as one extended scene, and a trailer.


Changing Lanes should be considered nothing less of a breakthrough movie for Hollywood; a thriller that deals with realistic, everyday people and the limits they can be ultimately pushed to, highlighted by two excellent performances from Affleck and Jackson. One of the year’s best films, indeed.