Nothing happens in this movie to refute the accusation hurled out by Gavin’s wife Cynthia Banek (Amanda Peet), “Law is based on finding ways to cheat. Lawyers know how the world works.”
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
Changing Lanes opens with promise, spirals downward into a slipshod script, and manages, in spite of it, to be worth watching because of Samuel L. Jackson. The opening scenes introduce Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), a top attorney speaking this day at the Metropolitan Museum and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), an insurance salesman whose immense dignity is worn down by a series of reverses. Today Doyle must be in court for a custody hearing over his two sons. For each, this is an extremely important day.
Rushing to these appointments, Gavin and Doyle are involved in a lane changing accident on the FDR Drive that rattles them and scars their lives. Twenty minutes late and without connections, Doyle loses custody of his boys to his wife Valerie (Kim Staunton); Gavin leaves a crucial file behind at the accident scene.
Ordered by the judge to “find your man and bring me that file by the end of the day,” Gavin embarks on a search for Doyle that reveals his essential moral weakness. He has played the climbing game in his father-in-law’s law firm (Sydney Pollack, chilling as Andrew Delano) and has traded scruples for lifestyle every step of the way. Rejecting several chances to use a “let’s work this out together” approach with Doyle, Gavin turns instead to a rotten trick every time. There is simply no rationale for Gavin to choose the low road at every fork when the high road would have done the job as well.
In reaction to his tormentor, Doyle reveals his hotheadedness, the flaw that ended his marriage to a good woman. Mr. Jackson and Ms. Staunton have scenes together that are strong enough to pull us into the movie whenever they are on screen. Mr. Affleck, on the other hand, doesn’t have the slickness needed to operate at the top of his pile, nor does he seem to have the inner resources to call on for genuine redemption. Only once, near the end, does he assert himself convincingly.
Nothing happens in this movie to refute the accusation hurled out by Gavin’s wife Cynthia Banek (Amanda Peet), “Law is based on finding ways to cheat. Lawyers know how the world works.” Inviting her husband to live out there on the edge where men steal to make life work, she tosses Gavin into his own ugly mess where he stands alone to grapple with the murky possibilities of changing his whole inner self. It’s the combination of the Affleck character’s moral mushiness and a bad script that proves fatal.
We’ve seen all this before, but not often with so many wrongheaded moves (the confessional booth, for example). Still, if you have a rainy afternoon, you will see fine supporting performances from Kim Staunton and William Hurt and a good starring turn by Samuel L. Jackson, an actor so interesting that we watch just to see what he will do next.
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