What a difference a good script makes. I didn't expect much out of Changing Lanes, Roger Michell's movie-of-the-week about a fender-bender that escalates into the worst Good Friday in over 2000 years. I certainly didn't expect the accident itself to be handled so perfunctorily, almost a throwaway. But Michell, heretofore known for veddy British films like Persuasion and Notting Hill, shows a real feel for contemporary New York City, where every encounter has an element of warfare about it. And both he and his scriptwriters ' rookie Chap Taylor and veteran Michael Tolkin (The Player) ' seem to want to get to the bottom of what makes two otherwise nice guys go after each other with everything they've got. An exploitation flick that doubles as a primer in moral philosophy, Changing Lanes writes its own rules of the road.
Ben Affleck stars as Gavin Banek, a Wall Street lawyer late for a court appearance who, through no fault of his own, sideswipes a car driven by Samuel Jackson's Doyle Gipson. Banek tries to buy Gipson off with a blank check, and when that doesn't work he leaves Gipson standing in the rain. "Better luck next time," he shouts from his car, but neither of these gentlemen is going to have a lucky day. Gipson, an alcoholic, is about to lose visitation rights to his two sons. And Banek is about to realize that, by rushing off, he left behind the most important file in a $100 million lawsuit. Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse in which Gipson and Banek take turns playing the cat and the mouse. Not since Wile E. Coyote discovered Acme has an enemy been pursued with such fierce cunning.
In fact, they spend very little time together, although Michell cuts back and forth between them in such a way that we often feel like they're in the same scene. As Gipson, Jackson lowers the volume on his performance, hiding his face behind a mustache and a pair of glasses. Then, at strategic moments, he blows the sub-woofers. But it's Affleck, fresh from a 12-step program of his own, who gives Changing Lanes surprising depth. For perhaps the first time, he seems altogether there ' callow and earnest, cocky and worried. As far as I can tell, the movie doesn't pull for one of these guys over the other. It hopes both of them realize that living well is the best revenge, not making the other guy's life a living hell.