Strong performances, a gripping story line, and thought-provoking contemporary themes make up for the somewhat unsatisfying “happy” ending.
High-powered young attorney Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck) and troubled insurance salesman Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) meet by way of a traffic collision on Manhattan’s FDR Drive. Both men are in a huge hurry to get to court. Banek must file documents proving that control of a big foundation passed over to his law firm, while Gipson is trying to save his marriage by showing that he is buying a house.
As it happens, Gavin’s car is drivable, Doyle’s is not, and within moments, Gavin hands Doyle a blank check and drives off, leaving Doyle stranded. “Better luck next time,” the lawyer cheerfully intones.
He will regret those words, since even though he gets to court on time, he left the very file he needed at the scene of the accident. He must produce it by the end of the day, or lose control of the foundation. Doyle, who has to make it to family court without a car, arrives late, loses his bid to impress the judge, and knows that his ex will now move to Oregon with their sons. However, he DOES pick up Gavin’s file.
Banek returns to his office, wondering what to do next, and confides in his assistant/mistress Michelle (Toni Collette). Among other things, Michelle tells him that the firm’s takeover of the foundation was very dicey, and he should have realized it, since he himself obtained the signature of the dying chief executive, at the behest of senior partner (and father-in-law) Delano (Sydney Pollack). Worse, Delano tells him that without the document, fraud could probably be proven by the founder’s granddaughter, and that could mean jail time, as well as disbarment. Delano and another senior partner suggest forgery if Gavin can’t produce the real document in time.
Sufficiently stressed out, Gavin is able to locate Doyle, and offers him various inducements to get the file back. Doyle’s reply: “Better luck next time!” At this, a battle royal ensues between the two men, comprising high-tech savagery on Gavin’s part versus plain old sabotage by the lesser-equipped Doyle.
Writers Chap Taylor and Michael Tolkin provide a few surprises along the way, including a switcheroo ending, as well as the aforementioned thematic elements.
About halfway through the pic, we find out that the action is occurring on Good Friday. Gavin, in fact, stumbles into a Catholic Church just when the “This is the wood of the cross” (Veneration) procession is taking place. Suffering, though, in Banek’s mind, is better left to Galilean prophet types from 2000 years ago. He needs his file. As for redemption, read on.
A chilling encounter takes place during an urgent lunch meeting, arranged by Gavin’s wife Cynthia (Amanda Peet). It’s bad enough that Banek can’t really spare the time, but it’s even worse when the purpose of the rendezvous is revealed: She has been recruited by her father (Delano) to force Gavin to do whatever is necessary. After all, she informs him, she could have married an honest man, but she preferred a scumbag (who would make more money) like her father. Yes, she knows he has a mistress, but she still loves Gavin and wants to remain a “team.” This is definitely one of the top ten “ice queen” scenes in all of cinema.
You’d think that Gavin would re-evaluate his relationship and his life; maybe even change lanes. If Frank Capra were directing this film, he would have run off with the mistress. But no. At age 28, our hero is too set in his ways.
As far as Doyle, he’s a hard case recovering alcoholic, but as his AA sponsor (William Hurt) tells him, his true drug of choice is chaos. His redemption, unfortunately, is intimately tied into Gavin’s non-redemption.
Stripped to its essentials, the film presents an interaction of two men who would otherwise have never met, and the events of that single day will change their lives. How much of Gavin and Doyle is in all of us?
Heady stuff for Hollywood, circa 2002.