Changing Lanes is much more complex than the trailer leads you to believe. From the preview, you'd think it is an action fan's over-revved, simple-minded revenge thriller with lots of vehicular mayhem. Believe it or not, it does more peeling back of the layers of insulation of the affluent/powerful end of the social spectrum than any film I have seen lately. (--And not in the way the disappointingly too-pat-to-downright-absurd 'John Q' did, either.)
It's a film noir, and one of the darkest at that, full of despair, cynicism and scathing revelations about human nature. It seems to say-- or really, and this is a major distinction, to be about characters some of whom believe-- that we all make deals of personal expedience with Morality, that no one escapes life formation uncompromised and therefore able to comment on or judge anyone else's choices or actions. It's the old amoral, nihilistic/relativistic universe routine, which says concepts of fairness, justice or morality are quaintly irrelevant, that stuff just keeps happening, always has and always will, que sera sera.
My favorite scene, which was revolting and ugly and creepy as anything in any horror film you can name, is when Affleck sits down in a fine restaurant to discuss with his wife the morality of the situation he has been sucked into and is getting in deeper by the hour. He recognizes rightly that his game of oneupmanship, and win-at-any-cost has gotten insanely out of control. He is beginning to question it all, everything in his life. He comes to his wife for solace, direction, insight, a hint of moral rectitude, any help she can offer. She helps him, alright-- by saying she knows he does dishonest things (like having an affair with a woman at the office, which up until she springs that, he thought was his little secret) and that she could have had an honest husband, if that was all she wanted. --Why would she make a scene over an infidelity and risk interrupting the flow of her resources, anyway, she asks. He splits the dinner, dazed and even more desperate. In the next scene we witness him doing more of those very things he has just been having moral anguish over. (Maybe he can't recognize the feel of moral anguish at first.)
The Affleck character has a tremendous amount at stake, courtesy a pretty nifty plot hook, that keeps him up to some very dirty tricks. Sure, he doesn't want to risk interrupting the flow of his resources, either. But I think it's clear that the real reason he keeps doing crummy things is because he is a man compulsively drawn to the rewards of a destructive mode of behavior. Others gamble or drink or eat too much. Affleck works the system, lying, cheating, and treating all people like garbage. That's his high, his inescapable need. He can't quit. (Late in the film, he agrees to hire an idealistic young intern because, he laughs uncontrollably to himself, he wants to see what the intern's optimism and altruism looks like after 5 years of hard weathering by his no-rules-in-life employer.) Affleck is sick, and while he finally recognizes that sickness, he resigns himself to keep doing the same thing because, as his boss tells himself, he is willing to believe he has done more good than harm at the end of the day. The Affleck character's motivations for being extra bad, in the episode of his life we glimpse here, are strong enough to keep Changing Lanes from being just another American psycho study; it's easy to believe we could turn Affleck, given a similar circumstance in our life.
The ending is a somewhat forced positive one, but not nearly as much a sell out as is usually the case with a made-by-committee major commercial film. I give the whole enterprise 8.5 out of 10 stars.