Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson, less a cliched picture of the black-man-dogged-by-the-system than the film’s trailer suggests), a recovering alcoholic, compares himself to the bubbles inside a champagne bottle—without liquor, he is now “rising with joy.” Doyle’s sponsor (William Hurt) suggests that he be careful with his metaphors. He secures a loan for a new home and prepares a speech for a judge that will determine if he can have joint custody of his children. Attorney Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) is late for his own court date, changes lanes and crashes into Doyle on New York City’s FDR Drive. What with its poppy, show-offy assault on moral responsibility, Changing Lanes comes to resemble other Michael Tolkin tales of virtue gone awry (The Rapture, The New Age, The Player). While Tolkin and co-screenwriter Chap Taylor’s thesis is considerably browbeaten (a church confessional becomes the egregious setting for Gavin to launch into a diatribe on the “meaning of life”), Changing Lanes is a rare example of studio filmmaking evocatively concerned with the nature of morality. Gavin disrespects Doyle and, in effect, is punished when he loses his case’s power of appointment, the one document that will prove that “God is on his side.” The least of the film’s concerns is that truth is relative to the law. By film’s end, Changing Lanes questions the effects of individual morality on a collective consciousness. And while the film spends little time with its secondary characters, director Roger Michell’s stream-of-consciousness brush ethereally paints New York as home for passive aggressors pandering to disaster without acknowledging the responsibility of individual actions.
The worst thing that can be said about Paramount's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Roger Michell's highly acclaimed Changing Lanes is that Salvatore Totino's gorgeous cinematography is frequently compromised by noticeable specks and dirt. Otherwise, color reproduction is great and blacks are rock solid. Near perfect, though, is the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Both David Arnold's evocative, techno-symphonic score and the film's multi-layered sound design are preserved on this clean, evocative transfer.
Should you think that Changing Lanes had less to do with director Roger Michell than it did with writer Michael Tolkin, Michell's commentary track more than confirms the director's expertise behind the camera. Forget Michell's noble thoughts on 9/11, Giuliani and color-matching. Though he's very quick to give credit where it's due (Salvatore Totino's fabulous use of natural light, Kristi Zea's glassy production design), it's clear that Michell has a strong understanding for the implications of his film's fragile mise-en-scène. Writers Tolkin and Chap Taylor share their insights on the very short "A Writer's Perspective" featurette and while "The Making of Changing Lanes" featurette is handsomely produced, this making-of documentary goes heavy on the film clips, plot recollections and movie-man voiceovers. Also included here are two deleted scenes ("Interview with Gordon Pinella" and "Artie Crenshaw"), an extended version of Ben Affleck's heavy-handed "Confessional" and the film's theatrical trailer. No mention is made of the film's reported alternate ending on the commentary track nor is it included as part of the disc's deleted scenes.
The features on this DVD edition of Changing Lanes are a bit underwhelming. Nonetheless, few films of this kind boast such an edgy, luxuriant sound design. A great auditory experience.