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Doyle Gipson is an insurance salesman and father who is down on his luck. He is a recovering alcoholic whose ex-wife has threatened to take the boys with her from New York to Oregon, effectively killing his chances of seeing them regularly, or of ultimately reconciling with her. Doyle believes that he can convince his wife to change her mind by proving that he has changed since their separation - he's remained sober, kept a steady job, and is even on the verge of securing a loan to buy her and the boys their own house so that they won't have to move. To get that chance, however, he has to show up to family court to convince a judge to side with him, and rule in favor of keeping the boys in the city they grew up in.
Gavin Banek is a successful young attorney and a partner at his father-in-law's high-class law firm. After delivering a speech at an event designed to honor the charitable donations of a recently deceased multi-millionaire, Gavin tries to pay his respects to the man's daughter, a former friend of his who now refuses to give him the time of day. She is furious over the fact that Gavin convinced her father on his deathbed to sign a document giving control over his expansive trust to Gavin's firm... a decision that just so happened to make Banek's fellow partners a handsome sum of money after they dissolved the board of trustees. While the bereaved daughter is suing to have control of the trust taken from the law firm, Gavin is certain that the judge will side with him once he delivers the signed, notarized Power of Appointment at their upcoming hearing.
The fates of these two men would quite literally collide one morning when both of them, distracted by the legal battles ahead, crash into each other on the freeway on their way to the courtroom. While the turn of events is most certainly an inconvenience for both of them, Doyle insists they "do the right thing" by exchanging insurance information and waiting for the police to arrive. Gavin refuses, and after futilely attempting to pay off Doyle with a blank check, hurriedly jumps back in his car and speeds away. In the process he leaves Doyle, whose car was totaled in the accident, stranded... and also leaves behind the folder containing the Power of Appointment he needs to win the case.
When Banek realizes that he no longer has the file in his possession, he convinces the judge to give him until the end of the day to retrieve it. However Doyle, who is now in danger of losing his children since he failed to show up in time for his own court appearance, refuses to return it. In desperation, the lawyer hires a "fixer" to put pressure on Doyle by canceling his bank accounts, putting the man's loan -- which is his only remaining chance of convincing his ex-wife to stay -- in jeopardy. Not one to be pushed around, an enraged Doyle delivers Gavin an ultimatum: make things right, or the file gets destroyed. From there, the two men enter an ever-tightening spiral of revenge, at the center of which they are bound to collide once more... this time, with potentially deadly results.
Changing Lanes is a 2002 film directed by Roger Michell. It stars Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Affleck, and Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding). The film was released by Paramount Pictures, receiving a positive critical reception and box-office performance.
Changing Lanes contains examples of:
- Alcoholics Anonymous: Doyle's addiction is revealed in an opening scene where he is describing the positive turn he feels his life is taking.
- Amoral Attorney: While Ben Affleck's character, Gavin Banek, certainly makes some questionable decisions over the course of the film, it is made clear that he is struggling with the moral and ethical issues involved. His senior partners, however, epitomize this trope, as they prove they're willing to cut any corners necessary to serve their financial interests.
- Buy Them Off: After their collision, Banek offers Gipson a blank check to pay for any necessary auto repairs in an attempt to get Gipson to agree to let him leave. Gipson refuses, which causes Banek to rush off and leave his file folder containing the Power of Appointment behind.
- Cycle of Revenge: When each man refuses to budge and try to see things from the other person's shoes, they get stuck in a cycle of increasingly un-diplomatic responses and revenge. Throughout the film, it is shown where each gets opportunities to end it by doing the right thing... opportunities that are, for the most part, promptly ignored.
- Disappeared Dad: One of Doyle's primary motivations in the film is to avoid becoming a Disappeared Dad to his kids by convincing his ex-wife not to move from New York to Portland. When Gavin's selfish actions jeopardize this, Doyle gets very upset.
- Grey and Gray Morality
- Ironic Echo: Gavin pulls one of these after his wife tells him that lawyers in his position have to commit to "living on the edge", in an effort to get him to agree to forging the documents he needs to win his case. He repeats her words in the end while blackmailing his father-in-law into paying back the money he stole and using the firm primarily for pro-bono work.
- "Better luck next time!"
- Sensei for Scoundrels: Gavin's father-in-law and senior partner, Stephen Delano (played by Sydney Pollak.) Part of Gavin's Character Development throughout the film is his realization that Delano is grooming him to become an Amoral Attorney, while getting Gavin to do the majority of the firm's dirty work.
- The Sponsor: William Hurt's character in Changing Lanes is The Sponsor for Doyle. He shows genuine concern for Doyle throughout the film, even going so far as to bail him out of jail during Doyle's Escalating War with Gavin. Near the end he finally gets fed up with Doyle's increasingly unhinged antics, delivering this scathing commentary:
"You know what, Doyle? Booze isn't your problem. It never was. You're addicted to chaos. Rage is your drug of choice."
- Vehicular Sabotage: Doyle Gipson removes the nuts from one of Gavin Banek's car tires as part of their ongoing Cycle of Revenge. To add insult to injury, Doyle arranges it so that the taxi he's riding in passes by Gavin in time for the former to wave, hold up a tire iron, and then let the nuts fall through his fingers, giving Gavin an Oh Crap moment before his tire pops off on the busy New York freeway.
- Working with the Ex: Lawyers Gavin and Michelle (played by Toni Collette) are shown to have had a fling in the past, despite the fact that Gavin is married to his senior partner's daughter.