Case Number 16412: Small Claims Court


Paramount // 2002 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // May 20th, 2009

The Charge

One wrong turn deserves another...even on Blu-ray

The Case

Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) is in trouble with his father-in-law (Sydney Pollack, Tootsie). He needs to get to court ASAP and prove a millionaire turned over his entire estate to the family firm, or there will be hell to pay. On the way, Banek has a fender bender with desperate dad Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson, The Spirit) and instead of being courteous, our callous attorney offers a perfunctory "better luck next time" and takes off. This makes Gipson late for his own court appearance, complicating his attempts to regain custody of his children. Banek soon discovers that he is missing key paperwork that must be filed in the case. Guess who has it -- that's right, the man he blew off on his way to the courthouse. He decides to ruin Gipson's credit rating when the man won't give back the file. With each individual desperate to get back what they lost, the pair engages in a dangerous game of cat and mouse, each one pushing their own moral compass to the very limits of its capabilities. Naturally, they then go several startling steps beyond.

In the rapidly changing world of digital formatting, fans aren't really interested in reviews of old films. Opinions about a title from ten years ago are not as valid as judgments surrounding the audio and video quality of a proposed product. Even worse, nothing you tell a true fan -- from an outright pan to a caveat emptor attempt at consumer persuasion -- will keep the devotee from running down to their local B&M and picking up a favored film. It's with this preamble in mind that this critic reminds you of the following. You see, DVD Verdict's own Patrick Naugle tackled this Ben Affleck/Samuel L. Jackson effort back on October 14, 2002 -- and nothing much regarding his take has changed in seven years. This is still a crackerjack thriller, with great performances from its leads and likeable direction from Roger Michell (who sadly, never topped himself after this impressive outing). The narrative still takes the simplest of ideas and extrapolates it outward, turning a seemingly minor misunderstanding into a life or death proposition, and the script still sizzles with the kind of social subtext many movies avoid outright. Are there quibbles here and there? Yes. Can they be ignored as the entire effort zips around with polish and professionalism? Absolutely.

Indeed, the best thing about Changing Lanes is its desire to confront issues, not push them to the back burner like so many "provocative" Hollywood entertainments. Race and class are often proposed by modern moviemakers, but few take it to the levels offered here. Jackson, who's since parlayed his bad-ass persona into a dozen hit or miss career moves, is especially effective, a real life as a member of a minority class clearly fueling his character's desperation and need for revenge. Affleck is also working from a particularly personal position, his "golden boy" situation in the media limelight inferring his inability to hang with the A-list big boys. It's the kind of recognizable shoulder chip that would go missing for a while as he tackled the tabloids and his own inauspicious script choices. But it's Michell that's the true revelation. Known for his period pieces and genial UK comedies, it's hard to imagine this man making a suspense-filled statement about America. Yet by turning his haves and have-nots into two sides of the same struggling coin, he infuses this film with a gravity and a greatness many similarly styled offerings lack. He is also helped greatly by a smart script from Chap Taylor and The Player's Michael Tolkin.

Still what are you really here for? Are you curious about the reconfigured tech specs, wondering if Paramount's shift over to Blu-ray gives the film added weight or added dramatic heft? Actually, is that even possible? Anyway, looking at the newest transfer from the studio, purists will be pleased to note the reduced amount of edge enhancement. The 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen image employs the AVC MPEG-4 codec and the results are quite astounding. The colors have been cleaned up, and amount of detail accented without unnecessary technological tweaks to same. While the print is not perfect, it is definitely cleaner than one would expect from such a limited catalog title. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 Surround is solid, but don't expect a lot of ambient immersion. This is a dialogue driven film, and the ability to hear said conversations takes priority over any attempted atmosphere. The score gets a decent directional treatment, and there are additional standard 5.1 tracks for Spanish and French speaking fans. Sadly, the only added content offered is taken directly from the 2002 release. While the material is good, it would have been nice if Paramount had updated the extras as well as the image.

For a brief recap, there is a great commentary featuring Michell, a Making-of featurette, a segment allowing the writer's to explain their input, and two deleted and one extended scene that add some additional character motivation, but little else. Toss in an HD trailer, and you've got the bonus features in a nutshell.

As a sleeper that suddenly broke out to become one of 2002's best films, Changing Lanes deserves a look from those who've forgotten it existed in the first place. They will see this sensational Blu-ray release and wonder where this evocative, edge of your seat experience has been their entire cinematic life. Others with fond memories or an actual copy of the DVD will have to ask themselves if a slightly improved picture and better sound suffices when it comes to the decision on a double dip. Granted, any advance in technology should be embraced, especially when weighed against the product profiting from it.

The Verdict

Not Guilty. Changing Lanes is a very good film. Whether it deserves a digital upgrade is a matter of personal preference.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Portuguese
* Spanish

Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Trailer

* IMDb

* Official Site