Hit him!

Changing Lanes

Directed by Roger Michell

(Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, Amanda Peet)

R

There’s a scene in Changing Lanes where Samuel L. Jackson’s character beats two white men with a pay phone. He’s having a bad day and he’s furious at their casual racism – the way they trade insensitive jokes right in his face.

This film is all about getting in your face; crudely examining racial and class distinctions while spotlighting ultra-white-collar crime. Roger Michell’s film lays a good foundation for social critique but then does a backspin in its final moments, losing its verve.

The constant intercutting between main characters Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and Doyle Gipson (Jackson) constructs the film’s social commentary. By juxtaposing their lives – where they work, who they talk to, what they eat – we see them as polar opposites. Banek, a Wall Street lawyer, is at the height of prosperity. Gipson is not. He’s a recovering alcoholic, fighting for partial custody of his children.

A narrative built on contingence causes them to collide on New York’s congested FDR Drive. Banek rushes off in a hurry, resulting in each man losing something important. From there, they engage in a relentless battle to recover their losses.

Through this tug-of-war, though, we are engaged in an examination of the social distinctions separating the two and the ethical questions that flood the movie. Banek’s moral ethics have drowned in his job’s lustful and corrupt environment. But, the nastiness he exhumes while dueling with Gipson seems to resurrect his conscience. This is where Changing Lanes looses its footing. I’m probably giving too much away, but it’s important to understand what’s going on here. The film becomes a story of redemption for yet another bourgeois white man who is able to fix his problems by playing savior to a less-fortunate minority. The salvation and heroism enjoyed by Banek brings to mind films like Hardball and Ghosts of Mississippi, which contain this common Hollywood virus. These films are problematic because they take the focus away from the historical struggle and place it on these “heroic” white characters.

Changing Lanes starts as a provocative, socially critical film and transforms into a familiar, maddening melodrama.

 

-Tom Horgan

 

Changing Lanes opens this Friday.