Changing Lanes

Changing Lanes (15)

IN the hands of Roger Michell, the man behind Notting Hill, Changing Lanes becomes more than just another formulaic Hollywood thriller.

The simple premise is what happens when the lives of a high-flying white-collar lawyer and a downtrodden blue-collar father intersect in a car crash. Ben Affleck is the lawyer, Samuel L. Jackson the alcoholic dad whose run-in becomes an escalating tit-for-tat war as each releases their unplanned rendezvous has had terrible consequences on their lives.

With mounting horror Gavin Banek (Affleck) realises the papers he needs for a key case have been lost at the accident scene, and that Doyle Gipson (Jackson) must have them. Jackson, on the other hand, late for a meeting, loses custody of his kids. With the legal folio in his hands he decides to exact a deep revenge on the increasingly frantic Affleck.

Without waving the Union Flag too boldly it is easy to make a case for the thinking, intelligent British filmmaker against the lazy, American treadmill runner on the back of this thriller. For a start there is far more going on here than just a battle of wits between too very desperate opponents.

Overly simplistic it may be, but this is the quintessential tale of white have-all versus black have-not, the type of race-orientated drama that Sidney Poitier might have taken on in the Hollywood of the past.

In Jackson and Affleck’s hands it actually moves a notch up above the standardised anorexic rubbish that comes out of the States, and I place all of the credit for that in Michell’s sure hands. He also gets some assured performances out of his two leading men.

Affleck, so often bland and lazy, delivers a genuinely electric performance, while Jackson, playing the little man, is never less than mesmerising. Nevertheless it is Jackson – his crumpled, rain-drenched form providing the perfect physical reality for the wreck that is his life – who takes the glories in Changing Lanes: a powerful tale of frustration, resentment and anger that slowly and relentlessly builds to a dual explosion.

Of the other main cast members, Oscar-winner William Hurt is wasted as Jackson’s Alcoholics Anonymous mentor, while Sidney Pollack crops up as Affleck’s shark of a boss, a high-flying legal eagle who shrugs off his shady business practices. “I can live with myself because at the end of the day, I do more good than harm. What other standard can I live by?” he tells an appalled Affleck.

The main flaw in the script, by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin, is that too much attention is directed towards making these two very different men start to like each other. Worlds apart in terms of class, education and occupations, Affleck and Jackson come to a knowing respect of each other’s predicament as their individual situations collide.

While it is diluted towards its end with too much of a redemptive feel this is nevertheless an intense and gripping story of human emotion that considers the issues of race, power and what desperate men will do when faced with a brick wall.

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