What would you say if I told you that there was a new movie that is that rarest of films ---a vehicle for two big stars that is also smart, deep, and well-written?
But wait, there's more!
What if I told you this film was discussion provoking without attempting to shock the audience with gratuitous content, contained loads of Christian symbolism-- and even a decidedly Christian moral worldview? How about that it is about the conflict between an upper class white yuppie and a midddle aged middle class black guy, but doesn't get bogged down in cliched discussions of race and class-- instead, focusing on eternal issues that are far BIGGER than those things that usually pass for Important Topics in agenda driven American films?
NOW would you pay for a full price ticket for "Changing Lanes?"
What's amazing to studio executives, I'm sure, is how many of you have. This subtle, non-sensationalistic film is the number one movie in America.
Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson play two men who let a chance accident escalate into a day long fight as their lives unravel in "Changing Lanes."
Jackson gives a superb, Oscar caliber performance as Doyle Gibson, a man who is just barely keeping things together, a recovering alcoholic who is holding down a job and trying to buy a house in a desperate gamble to win his wife and two young sons back.
Doyle is on his way to a court hearing to plead for joint custody, when he gets into a car accident with Gavin Banek, (Affleck) a hotshot attorney who is also on his way to the court hearing of his life.
Banek, a young rising partner in a big Wall Street firm, would seem to have it all together, and in his cockiness and hurry, he throws a blank check at Doyle, and leaves him stranded in the rain on the expressway.
But at his hearing, Gavin discovers that he lost the vital file to his case at the accident scene. The fact that the file is missing could lead to fraud charges against Gavin-- though as the story unfolds, we realize they are justified, file or no file. Meanwhile, Doyle is late to his hearing, and loses custody of his children. In a rage, he not only keeps Gavin's vital file, but taunts him with it.
A desperate Gavin goes to see a hacker to mess up Doyle's credit, taking this petty battle into a whole new realm, and things escalate from there.
In most films, one or the other of the characters in this case-- probably NOT the upper class lawyer-- would be presented as a victim of circumstance. But here, BOTH men are forced to realize that the accident leading to the file can only have this effect on their lives, because of the questionable and destructive actions each has taken on the way to that fateful point.
William Hurt sums it up brilliantly in a small role as Doyle's AA sponsor, when Doyle defends himself by pointing out he didn't lapse into drinking during the running battles. "Booze is not your problem, you're addicted to chaos!"
Director Sidney Pollack is also very good as Gavin's sleazy father-in-law and boss. He defends his actions to Gavin, who has suddenly realized the direction of his life, with a great morally relativistic lecture, "At the end of the day, I've done more good than harm. What other standard is there?"
The other standard is hinted at throughout this movie which takes place on Good Friday, as characters appeal to God, and during a sharp and funny conversation Gavin has with a priest while he takes refuge in a confessional booth.
Toni Collette ("The Sixth Sense") and Amanda Peet are also very good as Gavin's ex-mistress and wife, respectively. I also liked Kim Staunton as Doyle's estranged wife.
I don't want to reveal too many of this redemptive movie's twists and turns, though I will say I thought the ending was a little pat.
"Changing Lanes" is rated R for infrequent, but harsh, heat of the moment language. Because of its valuable lessons, however, I think it's appropriate-- and recommendable-- for adolescents and above.