Changing Lanes is one of those movies that's next to impossible to sum up neatly for, say, a trailer or TV spot it's hard to get much more in 30 seconds or a minute than "These two guys get into a car accident, see..." Nevertheless, in its theatrical ad campaign, Paramount tried to position the film as a straightforward thriller, implying a certain level of frenetic action and urgency that (thankfully) isn't what director Roger Michell's complex morality tale is really about. Rather, this is a challenging, character-driven story about the lengths people will go to when they're pushed to the edge; in the process, the film does what so few contemporary movies dare: acknowledge and embrace shades of gray in the typically black-and-white world of Hollywood cinema. Ben Affleck stars as Gavin Banek, a slick yuppie lawyer who's traded in his ethics for a partnership and the boss's daughter. Rushing to the courthouse one morning for a hearing about a trust case that means big bucks for his firm, Gavin has a fender bender with Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), a recovering alcoholic who is also on his way to court, for a last-chance custody hearing regarding his two sons. Gavin blows the accident off, speeding away in his shiny car after offering Doyle a blank check and a blithe "Better luck next time!" Left stranded on the FDR, Doyle is late for his court date; he walks in just in time to hear the judge award his ex-wife sole custody of their children. The only thing he has left is a file Gavin inadvertently left behind at the scene of the accident which turns out to be the key document in the trust case. A now-contrite Gavin is ready to do anything to get the paper back; quickly, his original act of selfishness escalates into a situation that is nearly the two men's undoing. Changing Lanes has some tense moments, but the key conflict comes from each man's inner struggle to resist his angry, base urges and do the right thing. Both leads turn in deft performances; Jackson has simmering, righteous rage down pat at this point, and it's nice to see Affleck in a role that doesn't involve flying off to war or blowing things up. He makes Gavin's crisis of conscience particularly affecting you can almost hear the rusty gears start clicking when his battle with Doyle makes him take a hard look at where he is and how he got there. Ultimately, Changing Lanes is a fascinating, original movie that's all the more compelling for its ambiguities and the hard questions it asks. It's also a film that works well on Paramount's DVD; Michell's carefully composed shots look just as good on the small screen as they did on the large one. The anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is clean, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is crisp and clear (other options include English and French Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks and English subtitles). Of the special features, the six-minute "Writers' Perspective" featurette and the deleted and alternate scenes are the most interesting; the "making-of" short is just so much fluff, and Michell's commentary is a little too sedate to be truly engaging. Trailer, keep-case.
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