Changing Lanes

-

Changing Lanes

A moment of blind chance blown up to movie size, Changing Lanes follows the ripples of an accident until they become mighty waves. Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson are both late for court appearances when Affleck sideswipes Jackson's car. For the former, a prematurely successful, remarkably well-connected lawyer, the funds of a multimillion-dollar charity depend on his timely arrival. For the latter, a recovering alcoholic whose wife is threatening to move to Oregon with their kids in tow, his court date is a last chance to prove himself a responsible father and husband. When Jackson refuses a blank check out of propriety, Affleck leaves him stranded, as unaware that they share a destination as he is that he's left an essential file in Jackson's hands. The hours that follow, which unfold over a long Good Friday, pit two desperate characters against each other in a game that keeps changing the rules until they vanish entirely. Out of that clever setup, Changing Lanes pulls both the promised taut suspense and a much deeper film: an ethics thriller. The film bears the heavy imprint of co-screenwriter Michael Tolkin, who, through works like The Player and Deep Cover, has cultivated a line of suspense films that plunge their protagonists into moral quagmires. Jackson and Affleck both play morally gray characters: One's not quite the yuppie scum he seems to be, while the other is not quite the meek loser he pretends to be. The film repays them by finding gray areas of its own, focusing on locations where ordinarily discrete walks of life overlap—expressways, courthouses, and AA meetings—and letting the camera drift to a child's drawing as a paternal fixer (Dylan Baker) prepares to bankrupt a man with a single keystroke. Continuing to develop into a director of note and a fine visual stylist, Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Persuasion) keeps all the balls afloat, juggling the machinations of Affleck and Jackson's game and the inner dilemmas that drive it. Is it justice they want, or redemption? Dealing in suspense with a conscience, Lanes smartly remembers that, whatever their decision, souls hang in the balance.