|INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)|
|Cinema Signal: Go! Strong appeal for wide audiences|
A take on the subject of revenge
From the pre-release hype and the general promotion scheme for this movie, who would expect a psychological drama balancing issues of morality and vengefulness. It's not at all about road rage. And, it gets a green light. Who woulda' thunk it?
In fact, it's the virtual mirror image of road rage, where an incident on the road in the mind of at least one driver, sometimes two, flares into extreme tension and emotionalism. In such instances, the intensity of the moment dies down into some form of rationality. Here, a two-car accident brings interesting and complex characters together. At the scene, there's an essentially civil exchange between them, and the subsequent events is what drives the thermometer of emotions boiling. It's a whole opposite heat curve than road rage.
Each of the New Yorkers, Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) a lawyer on his way to a court appearance and Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) a father on his way to a divorce proceeding, can scarce afford any delay in their commute to their respective Manhattan destinations but the sideswipe accident robs them both of timeliness in their appointments, with seemingly disastrous effects.
At the end of the encounter, Banek, in typical young arrogant lawyer style, leaves the scene and a disabled Gipson with a callous "Better luck next time" parting shot. Yes, he had to be in court minutes ago and he had little time to drive Gipson to his destination, but the remark was uncalled for and stunning in its coldness. Such disrespect will not go without its consequences however, and karmic punishment awaits.
While rummaging in his briefcase for his insurance forms, Banek dropped an essential brief in his legal action. Gipson discovers it and takes it into his possession, making it the central item in what becomes a continuing study in ever escalating acts of payback. Banek, with his very partnership on the line, must get that brief back, but the echoes of his comment takes a deep foothold in Gipson's embittered mind, making the return of the precious folder highly questionable.
Gipson has his other problems. Because of his delay in appearing at the divorce proceedings, the judge has decided in favor of his ex-wife, granting her permission to move to Oregon with their two children. If he'd been there on time he would have had a chance to argue his case as a caring father who has apparently conquered his drinking problem.
There's nothing wasted in the telling of all this, as we become completely engaged in the destinies and resourcefulness of these people, people who are drawn with a very interesting set of complexities and who are deeply enough affected by it all to have it alter their lives in telling ways. This is good drama, almost play-like in its depth, but without the constraints of a stage.
Performances are top-notch from everyone. This is Ben Affleck without the posturing or the fair-haired boy personna of certain previous film outings. He still has that edge of overconfidence but it is employed in an exemplary vehicle for that quality. Jackson can be over-detailed, but here, too, the quality works for the role in fastidously effective ways.
Sydney Pollack as a principal (and unprincipled) partner in the law firm, Stephen Delano) has never been more assured in a role that calls for various shadings of corruptability and Kim Staunton nicely balances a mother and ex-wife's warring impulses. Amanda Peet is noteworthy as Banek's wife and Delano's daughter for her believability in acceptance of certain levels of illegality for what she considers the greater (and personal) good. Peet crops up in this year's "High Crimes", doing a commendable job in a quite different role there, as well. This is an actress to watch.
There aren't too many films that can promote ethics and principles of morality in such a dramatic envelope and the success of doing so belongs in great part to writers Chap Taylor (story and screenplay) and Michael Tolkin as well as director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill", 1999). Kudos.