Changing Lanes (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs


Changing Lanes

Director: Roger Michell
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet,Kim Staunton
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-04-12

Two cars collide on FDR Drive. Traffic is thick. It's raining. It's Good Friday (always too symbolic in movies). Both drivers are rushing to court dates in the city. One guy, Doyle (Samuel L. Jackson), is a recovering alcoholic (you've already seen him at an AA meeting). He's hoping to convince his ex not move to Portland with their two sons, by presenting her with proof that he has secured financing for a house. The second guy, Gavin (Ben Affleck), is a standard-issue young movie lawyer, ambitious, ruthless, and about to seal a slimy deal by which his firm makes millions and he makes partner.

This car crash comes at the beginning of Changing Lanes. Caused by aggressive driving, it will prove fortuitous for both parties, as, by film's end, they will learn important life lessons and be better men for their interaction. But at this early point, their encounter is all bad news. Gavin, selfish and distracted by his pressing business, offers Doyle a blank check to pay for damage to his now undrivable car. When Doyle rejects the offer, claiming he wants to do things "right," Gavin panics and zooms away, yelling over his shoulder, "Better luck next time!"

This decidedly unsnappy retort becomes something of a theme in Changing Lanes. Both protagonists find themselves up against it -- time -- in their own ways. In his haste, Gavin leaves behind a file containing signatures crucial for his case. Knowing that his own time is running down, the forlorn and fuming Doyle picks it up and trudges into town where he's 20 minutes late for his court appearance. The judge rules against him, his wife snubs him, his two sons are dismayed yet again that dad has screwed up royally. Meanwhile, Gavin, soggy but still speed-talking, discovers his error mid-sentence. His judge is more lenient with him (he's a high-priced corporate attorney and, importantly, white); she gives him more time, till the end of the day, to recover the file.

This deadline sets the rest of the movie's events in a kind of compressed motion. Conveniently, and in a city of millions, as soon as Gavin leaves the courthouse, he spots Doyle on the street. Gavin asks about the file, offers him a new car in exchange for his help, now that he's desperate for it. That tears it for Doyle, drenched, miserable, and irate. "You think I want money?!" he roars, his voice coming close to that patented Sam Jackson climax-pitch. "What I want is my time back! Can you give my time back to me!?"

The rest of Roger (Notting Hill) Michell's movie works almost like a post-Falling Down, in that it examines rage and racism and frustration, but in toned-down, slightly less aggressive ways than did the travails of D-FENS. Changing Lanes follows the divergent but inextricably entwined ways that Gavin and Doyle make use of their Good Friday, namely, finding ways to get revenge on one another. These battles speak to the films central question, which yields partly ironic answers, at least until the sentimental-mush finale: what are the specific negotiations to be made between masculinity and morality? Both Gavin and Doyle have fairly standard ideas about what it means to be a man: declare your turf, get even, shake your big stick. To an outsider, even one who loves you, this behavior can look awfully self-destructive. During one aphorism-riddled encounter, Doyle's sponsor (William Hurt, sleepwalking) tells him that he's addicted to chaos; and his ex-wife Valerie (Kim Staunton), observes sadly that she needs to "protect" their sons from his furious spirals out of control.

Partly written by Michael Tolkin (forever beloved for making the delirious masterpiece, The Rapture), from a story by newbie co-writer Chap Taylor, the film does lean heavily on its plotty mechanics. It is plainly less interested in particular characters (their trajectories are pretty corny, in the end) than the abstract concepts they embody, sometimes gracefully and sometimes grindingly.

The graceful parts mostly have to do with Jackson's performance -- somehow he makes even the most contrived plot turn look earnest. So, when Doyle's initial rage at his own tragedy gives way to a decision to return the file (to do the right thing, because, at some level, he's "bigger" than Gavin, or at least, he believes, he's had to deal with greater hardships than his more privileged counterpart), the flip happens in an instant. He settles into his cubicle (he sells insurance policies over the phone), then casually calls home to listen to his messages. The smile leaves his face. He hears Gavin's incensed voice, informing him that he's already struck back, by contacting a sleazeball "fixer" (Dylan Baker), who has deleted Doyle's credit history. Doyle's face falls, barely; then he gathers himself to act.

When you see Gavin's end of this exchange, however, the mechanics are much more overt. The fixer turns gleeful while punching at keys, pauses dramatically before hitting the one that will bankrupt Doyle, then whomp, it's done. Gavin looks on, chewing his lip. While this is probably the fastest way to get Doyle's attention (as he's been advised by his coworker/mistress Michelle [Toni Collette]), it's also probably not exactly the "right thing" to do (something that Michelle has also pointed out). Oh dear, oh dear.

Changing Lanes offers such choices -- trumped up and piled up -- as a kind of character-defining shorthand. They're uninteresting precisely because they're obvious. Should Gavin forge a document to enable the theft of millions from a foundation that builds playgrounds for poor children? Should he stay with his rich-bitch of a wife Cynthia (Amanda Peet, woefully underused), who encourages him to do the wrong thing? She explains this strictly as a money thing: she wants it, and she determines that she'll put up with anything, from his affairs to his temporary crisis of conscience, to keep it. "We're a team, Gav," she insists, as his suddenly sensitized eyes well up with tears. "We're partners." Will he sell his soul or what?

Doyle's choices, on the surface, are similar, his demon being booze. Will he drink that bourbon sitting on the bar in front of him? Should he really try to persuade Valerie to stay, even though he makes his sons cry, every time they see him during this long, long day? It's hard to miss the difference in scale between their choices. While Gavin is coming to terms with the fact that his line of work is all about cheating people as a matter of course, Doyle sits in his cubicle, pondering his own immediate losses. While Gavin risks this hateful/insanely lucrative job, the wrath of his senior partner/father-in-law, Delano (Sidney Pollack, still reeking of his role in Eyes Wide Shut), his dreadful marriage, and perhaps, a stint in a country club prison. Doyle's risks are both smaller and infinitely larger: he risks never seeing his kids again, real jail, descent into alcoholism, and a murder charge (this stemming from one the of the film's lamest plot turns). He has less to lose, perhaps, but his potential gains will never even come close to what Gavin takes for granted each day.

All this pondering of moral questions starts to make Gavin's head spin, and in between conniving ways to muck up Doyle's life, he finds the time to duck into a church, where, after confessing that he's not Catholic, he presses the priest (Jordan Gelber) for answers. "I came here for some meaning," he says. "Why does the world need meaning?" asks the priest. This, it seems, is exactly the right question, and Gavin can't imagine it. Likewise, he's been unable to understand what Delano has put to him earlier, in a last-ditch effort to convince Gavin to swallow hard and go on with the deceptiveness of the firm's basic work. While Gavin is still hung up on what's going to happen to the playground money they've displaced into the firm's coffers, Delano asks him where he thinks all those foundation millions came from? It's not as if the money was ever "pure." Doh.

At moments like these, Changing Lanes surpasses its easy ethics lessons, even suggesting that at some level, it understands its own contrivance and reductiveness. But these insights are most often overwhelmed by events that pass for morally "correct." Gavin's eventual role as savior is more disturbing than the selfish and ugly one he's been playing at (and not so well) in the first part of the film. In order to bring meaning to his chaos, Gavin becomes, after all, a rather hamfisted white knight. He can bring such order because he has resources, and most importantly, time, that Doyle never will.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.