Changing Lanes (2002)
Changing Lanes pulls a fast one on you. No, I'm not talking about a shocking plot twist. What I mean is that it lets you think that it's a tale of the vengeance that two men inflict on one another after a traffic accident causes more trouble than they could have imagined, but really it's much more than that. It's about self-preservation, and how much a man is willing to do to protect himself, even if it means hurting someone else.
The two men are Gavin Baneck (Ben Affleck) and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson). Gavin, a Wall Street lawyer, is on his way to a court hearing to prove that he acted on behalf of a client and not out of self-interest, which would put him in jail - and he's got the paperwork to prove it. Doyle is also on his way to a hearing to prove that he should retain joint custody of his two young children, because he's a recovering alcoholic and is about to buy a home for all of them to live in.
When they get into the accident, Gavin leaves Doyle stranded, saying, "Better luck next time," but he also leaves behind a file that is crucial to his hearing. By the time Doyle makes it to his appointment, it's already over and sole custody has been rewarded to his ex-wife. Gavin, not wanting to be the one who screws over himself and his partners, does everything in his power to get back that file from Doyle, which includes bankrupting him. He doesn't want to hurt him, but if he doesn't get that file to the courthouse by the end of the day, he's probably going to jail for a long time. However, Doyle, acting irrationally because he's scared of losing his kids, is unwilling to cooperate, and things quickly escalate, leaving both men wounded and questioning themselves.
What makes this film work so well is that while the premise may not be probable, it is entirely plausible. We get the feeling that these are real people, at first struggling to save their own hides, but then later struggling to figure out what went so wrong in the first place, and how to go back and fix it.
I found myself wondering what I would do if put in the same situation, and I really hope that I would be a saint about it, but the truth is that I really don't know. In movies, everybody likes to see good guys defeating bad guys, but the real world doesn't work like that; it's just a bunch of flawed humans trying to figure out the point of it all and trying to become the good guy. Changing Lanes knows this, and that's why it gets my approval.
February 18, 2005