New Yorker, Doyle Gipson (Jackson), is an alcoholic insurance agent who is desperatley trying to earn back his estranged wife and children. On his way to a custody hearing, at which it will be decided if his wife can claim soul custody and move to Oregon with their kids, Gipson is involved in a traffic accident with Gavin Benek (Affleck) a hotshot attorney running late for the trial of his career. When Benek abandons Gipson at the scene of the accident ("Better luck next time" he tells Doyle) , he drops an important set of documents, without which he stands no chance of winning this trial. Meanwhile, Doyle is late for his custody hearing and loses his hopes of keeping his family together. Gavin finds Doyle and explains the importance of the papers, but the shattered Doyle holds out on him and thus the two begin a private war in which each rattle the foundations of the other's world until, by film's end, neither of them have any semblence of control over the havoc they've created.
Changing Lanes is an absolutely immersive and completely believable look at two men, one a poster boy for a corrupt and flawed judicial system, the other a downtrodden victim of it, and how their lives are forever changed by something as random as an automobile accident. The escalating fued never gets to the "Hollywood" level, eschewing gun play and explosions for shrewd manipulation and calculated personal attacks that cause more damage than any Smith and Wesson could ever hope to. It's fascinating to watch each character unravel and succumb to their inner demons, all the while showing signs of preemptive remorse, consistantly reminding the viewer that these are not mere caricatures, but well-rounded and realistic characters. The script by Chap Taylor is one of the finest to come along in some time, with whip-smart dialogue that manages to impress on the cinematic level yet still resonate as personally as if it were coming out of the mouth of the person beside you. It's also a welcome relief to see a film that involves a conflict not resort to the action/suspense cliche's and letting the characters drive the action.
Affleck and Jackson are both absolutely brilliant in this film, but it's Jackson who provides the film's most riveting moments. His Doyle Gipson walks a thin line, teetering between life as a newly sober, insecure adult in a dead-end job or sinking into a world of self-pity and destruction as a rage fueled drunk, and Jackson plays the character with a quiet sadness that resonates long after viewing.
Also of note is the performance by the late Sydney Pollack, who offers a deliciously evil turn as Banek's father-in-law/senior partner, Stephen Delano. While Pollack was best known for his work behind the camera, I've always found him such a wonderfully organic presence in the films he acted in, and this role is no exception.
Paramount delivers Changing Lanes to Blu with a solid 1080p transfer that sneaks up on you. At first I was a bit underwhelmed by the image quality, as the opening title sequence, in which the camera "travels" through the streets of New York City, seemed a bit flat and lacking in detail. Once the action shifted to the characters, however, the level of detail was impressive, with every wrinkle in Jackson's grizzled visage and every stubble of hair in Affleck's 5 o'clock shadow visibly accounted for. This is a somewhat "drab" film in terms of color palette, with much of the action taking place under rainy skies, and dimly lit interiors, but, when the scene calls for it, colors are bright and vivid, such as the painting in Banek's office, or the red of the folder Gipson carries around with him. The only minor gripe I have with the transfer lies with one scene, in which the camera zooms into the back of Banek's head and lingers there. I noticed a tremendous amount of digital noise and a complete loss of detail. This is another case of DNR gone awry, and, in this instance, I'd have preferred the film's original grain over the digital mess resultant in its attempted removal.
Changing Lanes isn't, by nature, what one would call an audibly exciting film, but the 5.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack is full of surprises, and wonderfully atmospheric. The aformentioned rain sounds lush and organic. If you close your eyes, you'll swear it was raining right outside your door. Dialogue is up front and crisp, while the film's minimalist score of electronic drum and bass pulsates across the soundfield.
The Blu-ray features a smattering of carryover extras from its DVD release. We get a fairly staid commentary by director Roger Michell, an EPK entited "The Making of Changing Lanes" (in standard definition), a short featurette entitled "A Writer's Perspective", as well as deleted and extended scenes (also in SD). The sole HD feature is the film's theatrical trailer. It's not a great haul by any means, but, for a catalog title, it's a decent enough assortment.
An emotionally charged, suspenseful, and riveting character-centric drama, Changine Lanes is just a fantastic piece of cinema. The Blu-ray presentation, while light on quality extras, boasts a fine transfer and excellent audio track. Be warned, this is not a fast paced movie. The film moves along as deliberately as it's characters actions, but is all the better for it. The writing and acting (remember them?) are doing all the work here, and it's a job well done. Highly recommended!