Two men, two lives, one day, one world!
“Changing Lanes,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck, is a phenomenal film in every aspect. Directed by Roger Michell — who has certainly come a long way since “Notting Hill” — “Lanes” politicizes the everyday phenomenon of road rage. Gaven Banek (Affleck), a powerful young New York lawyer, accidentally crashes his car into Doyle Gibson’s (Jackson) in the middle of the FDR Drive. Initially calm and receptive, both men slowly become consumed with their own problems to the point that Banek leaves Gibson stranded while he drives off in his beautiful Mercedes-Benz. Gibson, a diligent working-class, recovering alcoholic needs to get to a court hearing over custody of his two young boys, while Banek rushes to get to an important court appearance of his own.
The accident, delaying and jeopardizing both court cases, forces them to vengeance. Furious that his wife gets custody over the children, Gibson holds on to an important file that Banek has accidentally dropped in the middle of the road. Determined to get his file back, Banek hacks into and ruins Gibson’s credit rating. The plot thickens as both men find every possible means to screw the other over just enough to maintain their own sense of pride and victory.
Clearly an allegory to the tense social relationships that have plagued blacks and whites for centuries, this film takes no sides. It shows that, like history, these men don’t come with simple explanations. Their respective actions are equally manic and overly self-indulgent — although Banek does initiate the conflict, to a certain extent, by leaving Gibson in the middle of the road. It is this evenness in character representation that makes this story particularly provocative.
The poignancy is marked in the ways that all the blacks and whites, including the principle characters, are made equal so seamlessly. For the most part, no one racial group becomes marginal in the narrative or visual scope of the film, unlike many other Hollywood projects that do otherwise. For example, there are seemingly just as many black people working in Banek’s affluent law office as there are whites, and it is these casting choices which make the difference.
This racial leveling is particularly striking during the court scenes. Banek’s judge is a black woman, while the judge presiding over Gibson’s case is a white man. While some may regard these two characters as inconsequential, they are not. In a film about polar opposites and conflict, the choice to cast a black woman presiding over a white man’s case, juxtaposed to a white man presiding over a black man’s case cannot be read as anything but intentional. This racial choices, coupled with the many others spread throughout the body of the film, are critical because they illustrate the dual racially toned world that the two lead characters, and us as spectators, live in. Although the real world is littered with people of all races, in a country like America we often see people in “black” and “white” terms, and this film illustrates just that.
As idealistic as this equal opportunity filming may seem, the affect is undeniably one of hope. Despite the chaotic road-rage world that Gibson and Banek inhabit, blacks and whites can plausibly be seen as equals — a point that many filmmakers often lose sight of. A poor black man can occasionally outdo a wealthy white man, and vice versa.
Yet the film is good beyond the ways it handles issues of race. Besides the socio-political issues at the heart of the narrative, quality acting plays a key role in the film’s success. Jackson does a wonderful job of showing his pain and frustration, both as an angry man — which is a role he often finds himself playing — but especially as a struggling and determined father. Too often films depict black men as delinquents with regard to their children, but Jackson does a good job of creating a believable character who actually cares about his family.
Likewise, if not more profound, is Affleck’s acting. He exudes charm, and power. Yet, because he often plays charismatic roles, the best of his abilities are shown during scenes when his character shows extreme emotions. The pairing of these two actors makes the experience remarkable.
In short, circumstances may have pit these two characters against each other, but director Michell and screenwriter Chap Taylor adeptly reveal just how similar they may be. To the score of a rich electronic soundtrack, a quality storyline — despite a romantically perfect ending — as well as amazing acting and visuals make this an incredible film. If you’re looking for non-stop action or brilliant special effects, then this film is not for you. But, if you want a story that makes you think about your life just a little differently, or if only to understand why giving road rage a backseat can be the best thing you do in a day, see this film. It’s worth every angry minute.