Political Film Society - Newsletter #132 - May 1, 2002

May 1, 2002


Changing Lanes
African Americans are accustomed to being screwed by the power structure in American society. In Changing Lanes, insurance salesmarketer Doyle Gipson (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a recovering alcoholic, is driving on the FDR Expressway to a child custody hearing when Wall Street attorney Gavin Banek (played by Ben Affleck) totals his car. Rather than exchanging insurance information, as Gipson would prefer, Banek gives him a blank check and drives off, but leaving behind a valuable document that Banek needs to produce in court that same day. Denied a ride by Banek, Gipson walks off the freeway, with the document in his pocket, and arrives late for the custody hearing. The judge rules that Gipson must surrender full custody of his two pre-teen boys to his former wife. Although Gipson objects that he has arranged payment for a house in Queens as a gift to his wife and children so that they can stay near their father instead of moving to Portland, as his wife proposes, the white judge gavels him down because he arrived late to the hearing. Meanwhile, Banek appears in court without the document, and a black judge orders him to produce the document before the end of the day. In a panic to recover the document, Banek pays a computer hacker to track down Gipson rather than making a polite phonecall. After the hacker arranges to bankrupt Gipson, Banek calls him at work to leave a nasty message, promising to return his credit in exchange for the document. Meanwhile, Banek's conscience starts to bother him, as he realizes that the document that he seeks was improperly extracting money from a dying millionaire, so he could go to jail for perpetrating a fraud upon the court. Next, Banek discovers that the senior partners in his law firm, also implicated in the fraud, stand to gain millions, and one partner even arranges to forge the original document so that Banek will not need to contact Gipson.

Yet, Banek inexplicably continues to seek the original document, not appreciating that his partners will proceed with the forgery anyway. Gipson, who discards the document after the hearing, unaccountably does not cash the blank check and retrieves the document so that he can "do the right thing." Next, Banek starts a rumor that Gipson is going to school to kidnap his sons and then arranges a call to Gipson that falsely implies that his sons have been injured; when Gipson shows up to check on his sons, manifesting excitement, police place him under arrest. His wife quickly learns where he is, visits him in jail, and vows to move to Portland for sure. Gipson's AA sponsor (played by William Hurt) then somehow finds that he is in jail, bails him out, and bawls him out without hearing Gipson's side of the story. Gipson then locates Banek's car, unscrews the nuts holding one of the wheels, and Banek crashes near the same site as the earlier accident. Finally, Gipson brings the document to Banek in his Wall Street office, no strings attached, and tells the story of his life. Doubtless prodded by Hollywood executives, director Roger Michell then shifts gears after providing a classic example of how rich whites run over poor blacks without batting an eyelash and instead has Banek decide not only to blackmail his boss (played by Sydney Pollock) with the original document but also to persuade Gipson's wife to stay in New York to live in the house to be bought by newly creditworthy Gipson, who presumably could have earlier reestablished his credit and bought the house anyway with Banek's blank check. The insane plot, in which a white man supposedly obtains some kind of eleventh hour redemption from the honesty of a frustrated black man, also has a scene in which Gipson gratuitously tells two white bar patrons about how African Americans have been treated miserably in American society, whereupon the bartender tells Gipson to leave, the two taunt Gipson outside the bar, and he preemptively knocks them down. Thus, a white man saves a black family after wrestling with his conscience during the day and deciding in the end to make a Faustian pact as a Wall Street shyster who, in the words of his boss, will do "more good than harm." Happy ending? This reviewer would favor changing plots. MH