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Changing Lanes

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Changing Lanes
from Film Forum, 04/18/02

The preview for Changing Lanes promised an intense drama about how a fender-bender escalates beyond road rage into revenge vendettas. Surprise—the preview only scratched the surface of a complex and challenging motion picture.

It's a simple premise: Two men meet on the freeway—in a car accident. Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and Doyle Gipsen (Samuel Jackson) were both on their way to important court cases. The accident leaves them both sorely delayed and desperate. Doyle tries to handle the accident with patience and goodwill, but Gavin ignores the rules and rushes off to court, abandoning Doyle and his wrecked vehicle in the pouring rain. Bad move. The file Gavin needs to win his case accidentally falls into Doyle's hands. And Doyle, whose delay will cost him the hope of familial reconciliation, is now an angry and dangerous man. A game of moral disintegration begins, with both characters forced to learn something from the chaos of their urban combat.

Religious press critics seemed excited by the film's focus on moral issues. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops critic says, "The ending is a tad too sunny to match the preceding events. But after being put through the wringer, the viewer leaves feeling hopeful that doing the right thing is its own reward."

J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) examines the film's questions: "Is it okay 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 … but I was willing to overlook those faults in order to focus on these compelling issues. Which are raised in a very compelling film."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "What is most striking … is how easily these characters could have avoided their conflict at any time. By being so immersed in themselves and their problems, and by resorting to retaliation rather than forgiveness, their troubles keep escalating to the point where they nearly destroy themselves. Had Doyle and Gavin simply took a few seconds to remember to 'do unto others what you would have them do unto you,' all unpleasantness could have been avoided."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) recommends it "because it deals with the ethical and moral dilemmas all of us face at some point in our lives. It also has a strong message of redemption and forgiveness, and it shows how a little kindness goes a long way in righting wrongs in people's lives."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) recommends it "for discerning adults who are looking for a more redemptive experience at the local multiplex."

But Greg Groninger (Christian Spotlight) says, "Christians will notice some great potential for discussion about our own morality, and the fact that we as humans often come up short." But Groninger was disappointed that the film didn't explain that the gospel is the answer to Gavin's dilemma: "I wanted to shout out 'Ask Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior,' but like Gavin I left the movie feeling unfulfilled."

True—Changing Lanes does not spell out the gospel message. But it clearly points in that direction. Christian symbolism appears throughout the film. The accident happens on Good Friday. Doyle seeks comfort and encouragement at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Gavin finds himself drawn to a cathedral, where he asks a priest to help him find meaning and peace. But Gavin's anger makes him impatient; he may suspect the answer, but he doesn't want to face it. Meanwhile, Doyle is trying to do the right thing, but rapidly increasing trials send him into a downward spiral of rage and retaliation.

In my opinion, Changing Lanes is damaged by its implausibility. In an effort to make the film more entertaining, director Roger Michell and his screenwriters let their characters go to ridiculous extremes, making them look like the biggest idiots in town. Thus, the eloquent philosophical monologues are not very convincing. If they had given the film a satirical edge, perhaps these exaggerated deeds would have been more believable.

Still, I applaud the courage of Michell and Company. Jackson and Affleck turn in impressive performances (it's Affleck's finest work since Chasing Amy). Michell gives the film a claustrophobia-inducing aesthetic that lets us feel each character's desperation. The screenwriters raise unpopular questions, spotlighting the modern epidemic of self-absorption. We see ourselves in these anxious, hurried individuals. Their need for speed makes them impatient. One of Doyle's counselors (William Hurt) sums up the problem as an "addiction to chaos." By asking audiences to consider the alternative of patience, compassion, and Christ-like love, they have made this film essential viewing. In spite of its weaknesses, Changing Lanes will remain an important, nourishing piece of filmmaking.

Mainstream critics almost unanimously praised the actors, but they offered mixed reviews of the film itself. Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly) was bothered by the speeches and religious symbolism. She calls it "a movie about moral conundrums, and more specifically, talk about moral conundrums. Which is to say, it's self-consciously in love with its own words."

But Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) calls it "one of the best movies of the year." Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter) praises it for being "willing to let things end in the calm of philosophical resolution rather than a bang of violence." And Jeffrey Wells ( says, "It seems that one difference between the last decade and this one might be seen as the difference between Michael Tolkin's Changing Lanes and The Player, or a switch from defeat and cynicism to guarded optimism."

from Film Forum, 05/02/02

Critics in the religious press are continuing to praise Samuel Jackson and Ben Affleck for their strong performances in Roger Michell's Changing Lanes, a film that raises profound and timely questions about our hurried, self-centered lives.

The review at Cinema in Focus, a site maintained by a Free Methodist pastor and the former mayor of Santa Barbara, raves about the movie: "Few films reflect the spiritual and ethical struggle within American culture as powerfully as Roger Michell's Changing Lanes. Though morally exhausting as we walk through the sequence of events that occur because of a simple automobile accident, writer Chris Taylor exposes the moral morass in which many of us live our lives. Far more subtle and complex than a simple morality play, Changing Lanes only hints at the possible solution to our dilemma and leaves us longing for the more transcendent resolution."

Raymond Teague (Unity World Headquarters) writes, "The intelligent script of Changing Lanes doesn't succumb simply to a plot based on revenge and one-upmanship. It gives us a hopeful example that people are, at their essence, good and decent, and that people can indeed be transformed by the renewing of their mind and 'wake up' to a better, saner, more peaceful way of approaching and living life."