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Changing Lanes / High Crimes
"At the end of the day, I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got?" That is the question that confronts Doyle Gibson and Gavin Banek in the new film Changing Lanes. Though the preview makes it seem like a generic studio pic, it's actually a thought-provoking drama that explores the ethical choices at the foundation of our social relationships.
As you've probably seen in the ubiquitous commercials, Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson) and Banek (Ben Affleck) are two men whose cars crash one day on a New York city highway. Banek's vehicle can still drive and, though both men are on their way to court, he hurries off after writing Gibson a blank check for the damages and yelling "Better luck next time." Gibson is left standing in the rain. He arrives at his child custody hearing dripping wet and late. Even though he's arranged for his estranged wife to buy a house nearby, the judge has already awarded Gibson's wife custody of their two boys. Though Banek is on time, his court case doesn't go any better; he's left a crucial file at the accident scene, a file that Gibson picks up.
What follows is a series
of choices and decisions, as Banek tries to get his file back and Gibson
tries to get his life together. Both men are inclined to help the other
(Gibson has even hired a messenger to send the
Helping enormously is Roger Michell's (Notting Hill) crisp direction. He cuts effortlessly between Jackson and Affleck, establishing their similarities and differences and showing how their lives are ever more intertwined. The opening scene is a model example of this at work. We see Gibson at an AA meeting, where he's with his sponsor (played by the underused William Hurt), and we see Banek at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he's helping honor a benefactor. The two milieus are obviously different but yet strangely alike with their orchestrated social interactions. Christopher Tellefson's sharp editing contributes enormously, creating a powerful pace without ever being showy.
The acting in Changing
Lanes is fantastic across the board. It's certainly one of Jackson's
best performances since Pulp Fiction, as his downtrodden father
struggling with his demons is extraordinary. Surprisingly, Affleck
The supporting cast is also
great. Sydney Pollack (Tootsie) only has a few scenes, but his hard-nosed
lawyer and father-in-law to Banek strikes the perfect tone. Dylan Baker
as the "fixer" who likes his job a little too
But I have to go back to
the impressive screenplay, which raises issues not usually addressed directly
in a big-budget Hollywood picture. It's no accident that all of the movie's
events happen on Good Friday, which brings us back to the quotation I started
with. Is there another standard? Is it ok to do bad things if they're outweighed
by the good? And what is my responsibility to my fellow man, even someone
I've never met before? The film's script isn't perfect (the emphasis on
having all of the events occur in a single day sometimes create absurdities,
and the movie's conclusion is a little too neat), but I was willing to
overlook those faults in order to
High Crimes is a pretty
standard, connect-the-dots legal conspiracy thriller. Claire and Tom Kubik
(Judd and Jim Caviezel, respectively) are a happily married couple trying
to have a baby. He's an artist, she's a
Claire is committed to defending
her husband in court, however, particularly after she sees the bright-eyed
kid who's been assigned to the case. But she needs someone versed in military
law. Enter Charlie Grimes
This movie feels like a paint-by-numbers operation. Take a standard conspiracy-thriller canvas, add the paint of two likable and bankable stars, add some red (herring) flourishes, and wrap it up with a twist ending. It's unfortunate, because Judd gives a solid performance and Freeman is great as always. And director Carl Franklin certainly has a pedigree with films like One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress. But the talent in front of and behind the camera can't overcome the boring, derivative script.
J. Robert Parks 4/4/2002