Testosterone Poisoning: Changing Lanes, starring Ben Affleck and Samuel Jackson

By Daniel Garrett

Changing Lanes
Directed by Roger Michell
Writers: Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin
Director of photography: Salvatore Totino
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen
Producer: Scott Rudin
Paramount, 2002

In Changing Lanes, a Hollywood film directed by Roger Michell (The Buddha of Suburbia, Notting Hill), a lawyer played by Ben Affleck learns that though the law attempts to provide order and justice, it can be used to cheat people and that in trying to do his own job he can cause chaos in the lives of others. In this film, it is clear that there is no magic formula that can be used against human nature or against life. In Changing Lanes, Ben Affleck’s lawyer meets Samuel Jackson’s insurance agent by accident: in their cars on the highway, they bump into each other and Affleck leaves the scene of the accident in his rush to get to court but leaves behind an important file, which Jackson retrieves. Jackson, now made late for an important court date of his own, loses custody of his sons, and the two men begin a battle of vengeance with Jackson withholding the file and Affleck getting Jackson’s credit cut off and spreading misinformation about Jackson. Rage is what drives both men, rage and the desire to control someone else or gain vengeance for one’s own suffering. We see how society encourages materialism in one, the white male, and doesn’t support the ambitions of the other, the black male. Both Affleck and Jackson give good performances; but the film is Hollywood-crude in having them emphatically state in the simplest terms or even pantomime what is going on. (The locations in Changing Lanes are both impressive and impersonal.) Before the film is over, each character is forced to face the other—to attempt a peace—and also to face his own inner workings, what he does and why he does it and how to become a better man. A change of heart and change of mind are necessary but are made to look easier than they would be in life, where the system—the network of institutions and public beliefs—that rules contemporary American lives is not easily defied or defeated, and remains unchanged though the men have changed. It is remarkable that all the significant characters in the film acknowledge the fallibility and corruption of the system.

Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, PopMatters.com, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. He has written fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, and criticism; and his review of Changing Lanes previously appeared on IdentityTheory.com’s web pages. Contact: D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com and dgarrett31@hotmail.com