Mis-marketed as a thriller, Changing Lanes is actually a gripping character study. The film stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson as two guys, simply put, having the worst day of their lives. Affleck plays Gavin Banek, a young lawyer desperately trying to live up to expectations at his father-in-law’s prestigious law firm. Samuel L. Jackson is Doyle Gipson, a down on his luck, recovering alcoholic insurance salesman, who is desperately trying to get joint custody of his two young sons. The two men's paths cross one day, when they get into a car accident. In a hurry, Banek leaves Gipson stranded in the pouring rain by the side of the road holding a blank check. “Better luck next time,” he yells out the window as Gipson begs for a ride.
What could be expected from a story with this setup is that the rest of the movie will involve Doyle Gipson seeking revenge on Gavin Banek by whatever horrific method crosses his mind. But this is not the direction the movie takes at all. Instead it’s Banek seeking revenge on Gipson. However, it’s not horror movie revenge; it’s the revenge of a desperate man trying to save his own skin. It turns out Gipson has an important file Banek dropped at the scene of the accident. Banek had been on his way to court to give the file to the judge, and thus win his case. Banek knows he needs to get the file back from Gipson, but what he doesn’t know is that his mistreatment of Gipson has spun Gipson’s life out of control. Gipson himself was also on his way to court. He was supposed to be at a custody hearing. His lateness causes the judge to rule against him. Thus we have two men in desperate situations.
What ensues is a cat and mouse game with each man trying to get what he wants out of the other by whatever means possible. What works best about this movie is the realistic portrayal of the characters and the restraint in not going too over the top with the situations. The movie is more about morality and redemption than it is about the mechanics of the characters' actions. Granted the film does have to rely a bit on coincidence and contrivance to move the story forward, but the intriguing story makes up for the suspension of disbelief.
Both Affleck and Jackson turn in very good performances, and are both very natural in their respective roles. There are several interesting side characters including Sydney Pollack as Banek’s unforgiving father-in-law and Richard Jenkins as a senior partner at the law firm. William Hurt plays a rather thankless role as Jackson’s AA sponsor. Hurt does have a great scene where he speculates that Jackson is more addicted to chaos than to alcohol.
Overall I found this film to be highly entertaining and even thought-provoking. The Blu-ray disc doesn’t really offer anything new (from the DVD) in the way of features. There is a commentary track from director Robert Mitchell, a “making of” featurette, “A Writer’s Perspective” featurette, a few deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.
The Blu-ray format does lend itself well to the picture and sound. To go with the theme of the movie, the story takes place on a rainy, overcast day. The 1080p high definition video presentation emphasizes the dreariness of the setting. The city is gray, and everything in Doyle Gipson’s life is gray and dull. The only bright spot in the world of this film is the high class law firm offices. The sound is presented in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. While it’s not a movie that is particularly noteworthy for sound, the format really makes the background noises of everyday life apparent. There is the pouring rain, the sound of footsteps, and the typical sounds of an office. The prominence of these little details helps the film setting stay familiar and relateable.
Changing Lanes is not for anyone looking for a thriller, but will satisfy those looking for an entertaining character piece with good performances.