Review: Changing Lanes

By film’s end, Changing Lanes questions the effects of individual morality on a collective consciousness.

Changing Lanes
Photo: Paramount Pictures

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.

Score: 
 Cast: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Kim Staunton, Amanda Peet, Sydney Pollack, Cole Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Ileen Getz  Director: Roger Michell  Screenwriter: Michael Tolkin, Chap Taylor  Distributor: Paramount Pictures  Running Time: 99 min  Rating: R  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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