Day of Reckoning. (Arts)

By Petrakis, John | The Christian Century, May 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Day of Reckoning. (Arts)


Petrakis, John, The Christian Century


A TALE OF REDEMPTION" is a phrase that film critics like to toss around. It usually makes some sense, since most dramas have at least one character who realizes the error of his or her ways and tries to do something about it before the curtain falls--a sort of low-rent form of redemption.

High-end redemption is harder to come by in contemporary American cinema. (It used to be a real crowd-pleaser, back in the silent days of D. W. Griffith [Intolerance] and Erich yon Stroheim [Greed], and in the populist tales of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. After that, the theme was mostly left to foreign directors such as Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski.) But Roger Michell's Changing Lanes is a big-budget movie about redemption, and it treats the theme with surprising grace and intelligence.

The story, which plays out on a wet and gloomy Good Friday in Manhattan, concerns the moral travails of two men who would appear to have little in common: Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), a rich young Wall Street attorney who is at the center of a shady attempt to fleece a wealthy charitable organization, and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson), an insurance salesman and recovering alcoholic who is trying to keep his wife from taking his two sons to Oregon. They are both headed to court at the same time when they crash on the FDR highway. Doyle wants to deal with the accident by the book, since he has already cut too many corners in his life, but Gavin has no time for such annoyances. Slapping a blank check in Doyle's hands, he darts off to court, leaving Doyle standing there in the rain. "Better luck next time" is his mocking farewell.

Within minutes, the drama of the story is laid out. Doyle misses his hearing, which means that he will lose his family, while Gavin arrives a few minutes late to court and discovers that a key document is absent from his suitcase. He must have left it at the accident scene and Doyle must have it.

As anger and resentment grow, the story becomes an old-fashioned revenger's tale, with each man trying to punish the other. As the "vengeance is mine" scenarios escalate, it becomes clear that these two men have something in common after all, namely, that they are both good men who have gone bad over time, and that this battle provides a chance for atonement.

Changing Lanes is co-written by veteran scriptwriter Michael Tolkin, who was brought in to do a rewrite for novice screenwriter Chap Taylor (who also claims the "story by" credit). Though it is never easy to figure out who wrote what on such a collaboration, the ominous mood and religious overtones have all the earmarks of Tolkin's previous work. …

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