Saturday, December 27, 2014

Changing Lanes (2002) 2.5 of 4

This isn't my type of film, that is it's an unapologetic, button-pushing melodrama.  Still, I give it a marginal recommendation because it does what it sets out to do.
Ben Affleck is a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, Samuel L. Jackson is an AA member trying to get visitation rights to his kids even as their mother threatens to move them to Oregon.  When these two harried men get into an accident on the highway, it has profound repercussions for both, and as they find themselves linked and battling, both are forced to look in the mirror.

Unlike Lakeview Terrace, race is a fairly minor element here, except for one scene in which Jackson's Doyle Gipson goes off on some Madison Avenue types who've been glibly discussing Tiger Woods.  I respect the way the film sets up a dramatic situation and follows through, without getting distracted or flinching at the character flaws of these two men.  And this is very much a story about men and their challenges.
The film acknowledges American racism, but it doesn't use it as the excuse for Doyle's grave flaws as a father.  At the same time, it has some compassion for the problems of a monied, handsome, white lawyer.  Yes, Gavin Banek has had lots of advantages in life, but at the same time the film makes clear the people closest to him have him by the short ones.

** spoilers ahead **

Changing Lanes doesn't flinch, that is, until the ending, which I found unbelievable.  Maybe Gavin would confront his father-in-law with his misdeeds and demand change, but not in front of the latter's wife and daughter.  Stephen Delano (Sydney Pollack) has been portrayed as a hard-nosed, unsentimental man who does what it takes to get rich and stay that way.  Why would he suddenly let his son-in-law dominate him?  The ending just doesn't work as written, and it's unworthy of a film whose main strength is allowing its characters to suffer the blows of modern life. 

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