From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: ‘The Rookie’ is a genuinely enjoyable family film; ‘Changing Lanes’ asks ‘the ultimate human questions’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the May 2, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

A few weeks ago, while visiting in the Pullman area, I saw the new Walt Disney film The Rookie. It was great to see whole families of a wide spectrum of ages watching the film together and seeming to really enjoy it. There just aren't many films out there that all but the smallest children would enjoy together.

The Rookie is the true story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), who grew up with a great love of baseball wherever he moved as the son of a Navy father (Brian Cox). As a young man he throws out his arm when he makes his move toward the big leagues. After four operations he gives up on his great dream.

In his mid-30s Jim finds himself as a happily married science teacher at a high school in Big Lake, Texas. He coaches the baseball team, which is seen to as a poor cousin to the school's popular football team. Jim has to face issues of trying to develop a decent baseball field and get the grass to grow in the right places.

Jim's wife (Rachel Griffiths, of the prize-winning television show Six Feet Under) is supportive of Jim's life. Their son is a baseball fanatic like his Dad and goes to all the games his Dad coaches.

The team is having a discouraging time until the catcher one night pushes Jim to throw one of his fast balls, like in the old days. Jim finally succumbs to the pressure and makes some fantastic throws.

The team of high schoolers finally gives Jim a proposition: If the team wins district then Jim has to go to a major league tryout and take a second chance to fulfill his long-held dream.

The Rookie is the story of the progress of the Big Lake team and the resulting opportunity for Jim to try again — with children in tow, at a relatively old age, for baseball's pitching glory in the Major Leagues.

Along the way there is a major conflict with Jim's Dad and at first some concern about the future from his wife. But conflicts or not, The Rookie is an inspiring story of the human spirit making some pretty dramatic leaps into the unknown.

Dennis Quaid is very good as the man with a dream who seems satisfied teaching and coaching high school students. In real life, Quaid is closer to being in his mid-40s. Somehow he pulls off the part of a man 10 years younger. With the help of sound and visual effects you come to believe he really can throw the baseball at 98 miles per hour.

Rachel Griffiths is perfect for the part of supportive but questioning wife and mother. She sets aside her more mysterious side from Six Feet Under.

Brian Cox, Jim's father, who has been unable to really support his son's dream through the years, is convincing as a dad who stifles his emotions and is always practical and safe.

It's a little hard to believe that there wouldn't be any profanity on the baseball field. But Disney is to be congratulated for bringing us a film with no violence, no sex, and no profanity. Hey, it's a great story that finally all ages can see and maybe even see together.

By the way, the real Jim Morris plays an umpire in the movie.

The Rookie is rated G - for all ages. The U.S Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting rates The Rookie A-1 — general patronage.

*****

Several times in recent weeks I've seen the trailer for the film Changing Lanes. For the emphasis on cars crashing I thought it was some kind of adventure-thriller. Boy, was I wrong. If you want car crashes don't go to this film.

Changing Lanes is at times a fairly slow-moving philosophical film that might be better called Do the Right Thing, if that title had not already been taken.

Roger Michell's new film is an ethical quandary film that asks for lots of coffee-house discussion after you have seen it. Changing Lanes raises the ultimate human questions and challenges us on how we answer those questions. In a loose sense it is Hollywood's version of the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's famous three films, titled Red, White and Blue, respectively.

The two protagonists are an insurance salesman, Doyle Gipson (Samuel L. Jackson) and a “master of the universe” lawyer by the name of Gavin Banek (Ben Affleck). They live and work in New York City. A car accident in which Banek's car changes lanes brings the two together. Gipson is trying to get to court to fight for joint custody of his two sons. Banek is rushing to court to argue for control of a $100 million foundation by his two partners. In the fleeting moments Banek leaves Gipson out on the freeway as he rushes off to court. In the process of giving the insurance man a check for the damages he drops the key folder that gives control of the foundation to his two partners. Gipson, picking up the orange folder, is then forced to walk blocks off the freeway and is late for the custody case. The judge will hear no excuses and gives complete custody to his wife, who is scheduled to move to Portland, Ore.

Both characters are seriously flawed, yet likable. Gipson is a recovering alcoholic who has a very hot temper. Banek has had the good life. He has married his boss's daughter and will soon be given a yacht for his work on getting an old senile client to sign over a charitable foundation to his partners. Yet as the day progresses he struggles with his choices, time and time again.

The day is a Good Friday. Banek, at an especially dark time, wanders into a church and hears the priest intone the famous phrase, “Behold, the wood of the cross." He even goes into a confessional and vents the feelings of his soul.

Religious symbols abound in Changing Lanes. Besides the crucifixes in the church, note the Sacred Heart painting in an empty closet and the rosary cross dangling from the cab driver's rear-view mirror.

Changing Lanes is not about cars changing lanes. It is about the life changes that we make when we finally hit bottom. It is thought-provoking and challenging.

Samuel L. Jackson is incredibly good at the ordinary guy trying to hold on to his children and maybe even his wife. His acting is forceful yet tender. He is one of our best actors today.

Ben Affleck shows that he can stretch. He is way beyond his performance in Pearl Harbor.

Sidney Pollack is terrific as the boss who sold out long ago. William Hurt as Gipson's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor is wonderful.

Amanda Peet plays Banek's wife with beauty and temptation. Toni Collette plays Banek's lover and coworker with just the right kind of caring and exacerbated love that she knows is not going to go anywhere.

Do you like to tackle the time immemorial philosophical questions that go to the root of who we are? Then Changing Lanes is the movie for you. But please, don't go for the two car crashes.

Changing Lanes is rated R because of language. The U.S. Conference of Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Changing Lanes A-3 - for adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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