For every film in which Samuel L. Jackson makes a questionable or even dubious appearance, there are others which wind up surprising you more than you'd expect. For every Home of the Brave, there's a Lakeview Terrace. For every Snakes on a Plane, there's a Changing Lanes. He might appear in a silly action or drama film, but as far as films which address feelings of race in America, he's quickly becoming a "go to" guy.
Chap Taylor came up with the story, one that has been his only screenplay work before or since the 2002 film that Roger Michell (Notting Hill) directed. Jackson plays Doyle Gipson, a rehabilitated alcoholic trying to get to a family court hearing to determine the custody of his two children. He's cut off in traffic by Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck, Phantoms), a lawyer who is getting to his own court appointment, and Gavin causes Doyle to wreck. Gavin leaves Doyle and his broken down car to fend for himself so Gavin can get to court. Doyle gets to court, but arrives 20 minutes late. He doesn't yell, he simply wants someone to acknowledge that he was late due to circumstances out of his control. The problem is no one in the courtroom is willing to listen. Meanwhile, Gavin finds that he's got some problems of his own. He's left an important file at the accident scene, one that will help him win a court case. The problem is that he compromised his values in order to get to that position, and he's feeling an increased sense of guilt. And ironically no one suggests that he stop either. Not his boss (Sydney Pollack, Michael Clayton), one of the firm's partners, and not the boss' daughter (Amanda Peet, The Whole Nine Yards), whom Gavin is married to. When Gavin discovers Doyle, in fact, has this file, Gavin tries to employ some shady means to get it back.
In Doyle, we see that no one outside the courtroom wants to listen either. His ex-wife is trying to take their kids and move them to Oregon, but Doyle thinks that if he can buy a house, he can keep the kids in New York. Doyle tries to outline the extenuating circumstances, to anyone that will listen, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. The fact that he has Gavin's file gives him a little control, even power, because now someone might listen to him. Gavin is emotional, perhaps rightfully so, knowing that Doyle has this file, but it helps give him time to reflect on the position that he got to, and how he got to it. The document itself is one that allowed his law firm to legally defraud a charity that they were monitoring, and Affleck got a document signed, essentially on someone's deathbed, allowing them to do it. It builds in him, this unease, and he relates this to Michelle (Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine), while he starts to think of ways he can reverse it.
Now let's be clear, Changing Lanes has moments where the leap in believability becomes too cavernous to deal with, particularly during the third act. And while the fender bender (and subsequent sniping by the Affleck and Jackson characters) gets a little silly as it escalates, the car crash is a distraction from the more effective message. One of more open communication towards one another, regardless of where their fate in life might be. It's tough to communicate a message like that without sounding preachy or overbearing, yet Jackson and Affleck are convincing in doing it, and not only do they approach it in two different ways, but the fact that they don't interact with each other aside from the beginning and end makes it all the more exceptional. The supporting cast helps to elevate the performances rather nicely, and the result is a film that will leave you thinking after you've watched it. At least, a helluva lot moreso than if you watched Jumper.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Changing Lanes arrives to Blu-ray in an AVC-MPEG4 encoded 2.35:1 high definition presentation which looks better than I thought was going to appear. Blacks are deep for the most part, even on the cold, gray New York winter shots when it's raining, which I was impressed with. Michell and Director of Photography Salvatore Totino (Frost/Nixon) mainly shoot things with handheld cameras to keep things gritty and feeling authentic, and leaving the viewer feeling as if they were part of the action. Image detail is generally solid and, despite suffering from periods of softness, is an upgrade over the standard definition track.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track doesn't do the film too many favors. The main complain from me is that the dialogue is inconsistent, so you've got to keep adjusting receiver volume. The level of immersion and low-end engagement is pathetic, considering you're watching a film with two major stars in it, released by a major studio. During the car crash scene which sets things in motion in the first place, there was no subwoofer engagement, things just sounded hollow. Even later during another car crash with more action involved, you'd expect to hear more, but don't. There's some directional effects that can be heard during those scenes, but they're not very active there, or anywhere else for that matter. Changing Lanes sounds decent, but it could easily have sounded better.
Michell provides a commentary which probably could have used some company. He covers how 9/11 impacted the post-production on the film and recalls the logistics of shooting in New York City at the time. He shares his thoughts on the crew and other members of the cast, and touches on the story and character motivations a bit as well. He tends to run out of steam and watches the film more than comments on it, and overall while some of the information was worthwhile, another participant would have helped. Next up is your usual making of look at the film (15:00), complete with voiceover hosting, and topical interviews with the cast on the usual thoughts on the film and everyone that plays a part in it. This is boring and not worth the time. "A Writer's Perspective" (6:30) features interviews with Taylor and co-writer Michael Tolkin (The Player) as they talk about what appealed to them about the themes and any particular scenes they're proud of. Two deleted scenes (4:55) are next, including one which cut out an appearance from Bradley Cooper (Wedding Crashers). There's an extended version of the confessional scene with Affleck (4:37), but it's clear the final version was better. The film's trailer (2:25) in high definition completes the extras.
Changing Lanes is a film that slowly draws you in and makes you emotionally invested into the characters' actions and what they do. The performances and storytelling are worth the experiences, and when it comes to the technical side of things, it's good without being spectacular, and the supplements aren't too bad either. It's definitely worth checking out if you haven't before, but if you're looking to double dip, know that the video is the only noticeable upgrade to speak of.