Changing Lanes


Directed by: Roger Mitchell
Written by:Chap Taylor, Michael Tolkin
Starring: Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Sydney Pollock, Toni Collette, Kim Stuanton
Released: November 21, 2002
Grade: A-

By what measures do we judge ourselves? A character in Changing Lanes justifies a wrong action but saying that he does more good than harm in this world. This is just one theory and everyone has differing standards of ethics and morals to guide their actions. The judicial system defines guidelines by which we live but no situation is ever same and essentially, it all comes down to subjective judgement as to what is right and wrong.

Two men in separate vehicles have an accident on a freeway. Neither men have a scratch on them but one of the cars won’t start. Both men are running late for important meetings at the courthouse. One is a lawyer (Affleck) who has documents which must be immediately lodged – they will give his firm control over $107m worth of assets left by a late client. The other is an alcoholic father (Jackson), who must appear to fight for custody of his children.

The father asks for five minutes so they can exchange insurance details. The lawyer apologises, pulls out his briefcase and offers to write a blank cheque for any damages. The father refuses and wants to do things by the book. The lawyer now must make a decision. What’s more important – staying five minutes to exchange details or getting back in his car to get the important documents lodged on time? He chose the later. He jumps back his car whilst the father shouts at him for a lift. “Better luck next time” the lawyer replies with.

What would you do in the same situation? Where the line between right and wrong is positioned depends on who you are. Some would think the lawyer made the correct decision and some would think otherwise. His job was on the line. How was he to know the father had an equally important engagement to be at?

The father misses his hearing and loses custody of the children. The lawyer makes his appointment on time but realises he doesn’t have the lodging documents – he left them at the accident! Now the father has the documents and when the lawyer makes an effort to contact him, he knows they must be important to him. The balance of power has shifted. It’s now time for the father to make a decision – does he give the file back or not? It’s a cat and mouse game from here with control swaying back and forth between them.

This is the essence of Changing Lanes. It’s a sequence of events where characters are forced to weigh up alternatives in on-the-spot situations and make snap decisions. They often don’t know all the facts, nor have the time and patience to seek them out. Consequently, decisions they believed to be right, later become wrong. But this is what life can be all about.

When you get to the end, you’ll know a lot more about these characters. The finale may seem to wrap things up by having both parties discover the error of their ways but have they actually learnt anything? It’s open to interpretation. Such thought provoking subject material is an oddity these days so congrats to screenwriter. There are a few little anomalies in the script I’d like to look into - events that seem to extend the margin of plausibility beyond its limits. It may not be perfect, but the message still gets across.

It’s been six months since its American release but finally the distributors have found a slot in the Australian schedule for this aptly titled film. So if you are changing lanes, make sure it’s into the one that’ll get you fastest to this movie. And if you don’t see it? Well that would be a wrong decision. Wouldn’t it???