Changing Lanes

1. The forms given at the end of the screening are by no means sufficient to state my views of this film.

2. I want to make VERY clear to Paramount that while this movie needs fixing, it does NOT need the sort of fixing I suspect tonight’s screening will be taken to suggest.

3. The print looked complete. There was a temp score (that actually worked pretty well), temp opening titles, and no closing credits, but aside from thatr This was a finished film.

“Changing Lanes” starts with a simple premise. A yuppie lawyer (Ben Affleck) gets into a wreck with a middle-class insurance broker (Samuel L. Jackson). The lawyer doesn’t want to give the insurance broker his insurance information, tries to give him a blank check, which is refused, and he scurries off to court. Unfortunately, he’s dropped a file, and Jackson’s character doesn’t want to give it back. That’s a superficial story outline, but there’s A LOT of storylines beneath it. Jackson’s character is going through a nasty divorce and is a recovering alcoholic. Affleck’s character had been having an affair with another lawyer (Toni Collette) and is worried that he may be on the wrong side of the case.

The fundamental premise and the lead cast led me to believe that we were going to get a mainstream Hollywood thriller, but that’s not what we get at all. Instead, we get an explanation of right and wrong. Both of the lead characters constantly try to do what’s “right” by their moral code, but wind up fucking up their good intentions. There are a LOT of long speeches about right and wrong, mostly delivered by Sydney Pollack as the Senior Partner of Affleck’s firm, and by William Hurt, in a nice cameo turn as Jackson’s AA sponsor. This is a drama, folks, about two men at the breaking point—it’s not a thriller, and it need not try to be. What I saw tonight was far better than the execrable Tomb Raider, and contained solid performances pretty much across the board, with the exception of the actress who plays Jackson’s wife, who is too hysterical for her own good and winds up hurting what could have been a powerful scene between her and Jackson in a jail cell.

So, my suggestions for how to recut the film:

1. Action Should Be Abrupt: There are “action sequences” in the movie. The car wreck that starts the film, another car wreck about midway through the film, and a couple of fist fights. These sequences need to be recut to be more jarring and sudden. Right now, they’re shot simultaneously too lyrically, with slow mo, and too jarringly, with quick cuts all over the place. Give us the incident in one take, from one wide angle, and it’ll be more effective.

2. Expand the Supporting Characters: Toni Collette and Ben Affleck’s characters OBVIOUSLY have history together. In fact, it’s made clear at one point that they were having an affair that is now over. Unfortunately, Collette’s character doesn’t have a back story, or any real development. Collette’s a talented actress! Use her! Additionally, William Hurt’s part should be expanded a little more. If we knew a bit more about the ties between him and Jackson, a scene at the jail would really come alive.

3. Cut Down The Cinema Verite: There are, especially early in the movie, a lot of documentary-style shots that establish setting. Those are all well and good, but they linger a bit too long. The film feels long as it is, and it runs only about 100 minutes. Basically, the film needs to be tightened throughout… little cuts, though… nothing big.

4. Emphasize The Themes More: The whole movie takes place on one day, Good Friday. There’s obviously some religious imagery going on. Hell, Affleck’s character even spends some time in a church. But if there’s a religious parallel going on, draw it out a little more. You don’t need to hit us over the head with it, but make it clear. It’s too fuzzy as it currently stands.

5. Rework The Ending—The ending, as it stands, is abrupt and silly.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

After a day of battling, Jackson shows up at Affleck’s offices to give him the file. Affleck and Jackson first talk, and Affleck has a nice speech about right and wrong. Here’s where we veer substantially off-track. They get into an argument about whose “fault” the accident that morning was, and get into a fist fight, which spills out onto the balcony. The folder drops to the floor of the balcony, and the file begins to blow away. Jackson saves the file, but Affleck takes it from him, lets it blow into the breeze and they laugh together. Fade to credits.

END MAJOR SPOILER

How about ending it this wayr Jackson shows up at Affleck’s office and gives him the file (thereby doing the right thing), they discuss right and wrong (it turns out the file is actually a fraud designed to funnel money into the firm’s hands), then Affleck disposes of the file, preferably by burning or shredding it. The end. More satisfying, less unbelievable, and lends more closure to both characters. You don’t need the fistfight. All you need is closure to the characters.

6. Don’t Fuck It Up: What already exists here is a decent movie. I suspect it test screened poorly. Scenes that I found effectively dramatic drew laughter from chunks of the audience. However, don’t feel compelled to turn this into a taut thriller. That’s not what Roger Michell (the director, who previously made Notting Hill) made, and not what Michael Tolkin and his co-writer wrote. They created a story about two people facing crossroads in life on the very same day whose paths happen to intersect. THAT’S the movie! Not an action thriller or an Affleck/Jackson showdown, but two stories that happen to intersect. Some touch-up will help… a new score (might I suggest Thomas Newman, whose music would fit nicely) will make sure the right emotional buttons get pressed, and tightening will help, but this isn’t a movie that needs to be completely reworked.

The film is slated for a Christmas-time release, it looks like, and it can make it. The changes I’ve suggested are far from gigantic, and would make the film a better film. In fact, Jackson and Pollack’s performances are both potentially award-worthy, and Affleck yet again does above-average work in a role he’s started to make his trademark when he’s doing real acting… that of a young shark who’s trying to keep it together in the wake of tragedy and change. The current film commits a cardinal sin: it’s uncommercial. However, it has a virtue even stronger than that. It’s a good film already, and it can be an excellent one with a little bit of tweaking. Paramount, take the risk and give us a movie closer to the cut I saw tonight, a drama about lives intersecting, than the cut I fear, which turns the film into “a taut thriller about men at the edge!”

Rating: B-
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