It’s too late for this year, but if you’re looking for a good movie for reflection for Lent, get Changing Lanes (2002; R for language). Actually, it’s probably a pretty good choice for these Great 50 Days of Easter as well. Susan and I saw it recently when it came up on our Netflix queue.

On Good Friday, two men are rushing to court on the FDR freeway in New York City. One is Wall Street lawyer Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck), who must prove to the probate judge that the appointment of the board of a foundation was in accord with the wishes of its founder, recently deceased. He’s in a huge rush, and in his impatience and inattention, has a car accident with the other man, Doyle Gibson (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also stressed and inattentive. He is due in court to try to convince a judge to let him have dual custody of his sons with his estranged wife. His marriage has fallen apart due to his drinking, but he’s trying to get his life back together. That’s been very difficult, though, since as his AA sponsor says, Gibson is “addicted to chaos.”

In the aftermath of the accident, Banek leaves an important file—indeed, the file he needs to prove his case—on the highway. Gibson picks it up, after having been left stranded by Banek with a wrecked car. The lawyer must have the file back, and throughout the day, as he seeks to get it, a game of one-upsmanship pits the men against each other in an ever-escalating cycle of revenge and dire consequences.

The movie is the kind you can and must unpack for awhile. At the very least, it raises questions like: What does it cost to be a good person? What happens when good people are put in situations of extraordinary stress? How do we maintain our standards in the midst of tremendous temptation to abandon them? What happens when even those we love and trust betray us and/or urge us to do wrong? How do choices we make at the spur of the moment affect us for good or ill? How does our true character come out in times of distress?

As I said, the film’s action takes place on Good Friday, so another question worth considering is how the story meshes with the biblical narrative of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. For some insight into that, particularly check out the extended scene in the DVD extras in which Banek talks to a priest in the confessional.

The story ends on a kind of Holy Saturday note, that is, open-ended. I highly recommend Changing Lanes, especially if you like small, thought-provoking, character-driven movies.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.  

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