movies: Mixed Signals 

At first glance, "Changing Lanes" may appear pedestrian. But buckle up, this revenge drama is one wild ride.

And that all transpires within the first half-hour.

Tightly scripted by Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin (Altman's "The Player"), British director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") keeps the pace brisk but controlled, keeping the actors and the action from spinning out of control. Incredibly, "Changing Lanes" never feels overburdened, even as the revenge that Affleck's and Jackson's characters wreak on each other becomes more and more devastating.

It all begins innocently enough with a fender-bender as young Manhattan attorney Gavin Banek (Affleck) rushes to a court hearing. The man he runs into, Doyle Gibson (Jackson), is also on a mission of great importance; he's struggling to put his life and family back together. Angry words are exchanged — both men are in a rage over being delayed from their appointments. Quietly, unobtrusively, the seeds of the intricate revenge plot are planted.

Much like Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan" a few years back, "Changing Lanes" deals with how good some people can be, despite mounting circumstances and pressure for them to do very, very bad things. Amazingly for a big-budget studio release, the movie not only willingly operates in a moral universe, it strives to do so. That alone makes "Changing Lanes" a rare treat.

As Gavin and Doyle plot their revenge, using whatever weapons are available to them, natural and wholly believable consequences follow with the sureness of Old Testament canons. "An eye for an eye" becomes a vile expression of desperation. Balancing the nasty turn of events, the screenwriters avoid the cliche of strapping each man with a sidekick who eggs him on. Instead, Gavin and Doyle are given best friends with both a conscience and a voice of reason. Doyle's is his AA sponsor (William Hurt); Gavin's is his ex-lover and co-worker (Toni Collette).

In his most riveting performance since "Pulp Fiction," Jackson plays against type here, making Doyle a hothead without a trace of hipness about him. Affleck, who has a tendency to coast through some roles with superficial ease, crafts a focused, full-bodied performance as the increasingly vulnerable Gavin.

The stars — and movie — receive a great deal of help from a terrific supporting cast. Besides Hurt and Collette, Sydney Pollak shines as Gavin's father-in-law and boss, and Amanda Peet, coming off a series of bad movies, nails the part of Gavin's greedy, cold-blooded wife.

Scripted and directed with rare intelligence, "Changing Lanes" explores morally murky areas in a way American films have ignored since the '70s. And the movie accomplishes that without ever sacrificing its mounting tension or its talented cast. Fasten those seatbelts and keep hands inside the vehicle at all times, this is one emotional moral rollercoaster ride. S


Latest in Arts and Culture


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Maribeth Brewster

Connect with Style Weekly

Most Popular Stories

  • Gallery5 goes to all-Virginia products to lower carbon footprint

    Gallery5 goes to all-Virginia products to lower carbon footprint

    Also holding 50 Mile Fest art show during month of May.
    • May 7, 2021
  • Island Mascot

    Island Mascot

    Sculpture “Edwards the Fisherman” has survived high water to remain watching over an island in the middle of the James.
    • May 11, 2021
  • Wild Rides

    Wild Rides

    Richmond native and New York multi-instrumentalist Michael Hearst releases his fourth book and album, “Unconventional Vehicles.”
    • May 6, 2021
  • Hearing the Call

    Hearing the Call

    Menuhin Competition guest artist Regina Carter discusses the Olympics for young violinists, held this year in Richmond.
    • May 4, 2021
  • More »

Copyright © 2021 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation