Directed by James Mangold
Produced by Cathy Konrad
Written by Michael Cooney
Director of Photograpy Phedon Papamichael
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cast: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John C. McGinley, Clea DuVall & John Hawkes
2003/90 mins/Color/5.1 DD
2.40:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD
There are many (especially visitors to this site) who feel that Hollywood is incapable of making a competent horror film or thriller, and to an extent, they are right. The majority of genre product which comes from the major studios is simply recycled crap that is neither scary nor interesting. But, every once in a while, a big-budget thriller will come along that is edgy and entertaining. At first glance, IDENTITY looks like a run-of-the-mill murder mystery, but the film is more than it appears to be.
The action in IDENTITY takes place at a roadside motel somewhere in Nevada. During a torrential thunderstorm, a group of people are forced to stop at the motel. Ed (John Cusack) is a limo driver who has been chauffeuring actress Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay). The York family, George (John C. McGinley), Alice (Leila Kenzle), and young Timmy (Bret Loehr), are on a vacation. Paris (Amanda Peet), a prostitute, is travelling to Florida. Ginny (Clea DuVall) and Lou (William Lee Scott) are newlyweds. Rhodes (Ray Liotta) is a cop transporting a prisoner, Robert (Jake Busey). This group converge on the motel, which is being managed by Larry (John Hawkes). As the storm rages, the group learns that the phones are down and that Rhodes' radio doesn't work -- so they are cut off from the rest of the world. Soon, the group is murdered one-by-one, and a hotel key is found with each body. As the killings escalate and bizarre things begin to happen, the survivors begin to realize that they have several things in common and that there meeting at the motel may be more than just random chance.
IDENTITY is that rare film which takes a very old and familiar story, and adds a very unique twist that makes the whole thing seem brand new. The basic premise is obviously influenced by Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians", and the characters in the movie even make this connection. Essentially, the first hour of the film is a very well-made, but not incredibly original "whodunnit". But, around the 1:04:00 things begin to get weird, and we (the audience) and the characters begin to question the reality of the situation. And then, IDENTITY makes its boldest move at the 1:10:00 point, where the big twist is revealed, and a very unique twist it is. The film stops being a "whodunnit" and becomes a "what is going on here?". Whether or not you agree with the originality of this radical shift in the story, you must agree that it's a gutsy move. While many Hollywood films are accused of "dumbing down" and pandering to the audience, IDENTITY assumes that the audience is going to be smart enough to understand what is going on and accept it. I can see many being totally confused by this point, or worse, turning the film off, but IDENTITY's success at the box-office indicates that many people were willing to stick it out, and apparently told their friends to do the same. Having played their trump card at the opening of the third act, the audience then waits to see what kind of twist the filmmakers will pull out for the ending. This twist is good, but not as powerful as the earlier one. Screenwriter Michael Cooney had previously written and directed JACK FROST and JACK FROST 2: REVENE OF THE MUTANT KILLER SNOWMAN, but with IDENTITY, he is forgiven for those films. Similarly, director James Mangold had previously worked on standard Hollywood fare such as GIRL, INTERRUPTED and KATE & LEOPOLD, but he shows a strong command for the material here, maintaining a strong sense of tension throughout the film, and expertly handling the MEMENTO-like flashbacks which introduce the characters.
The great story and atmosphere of IDENTITY (most of it was actually shot on a soundstage!) is only helped by the outstanding cast. Most of us probably think of John Cusack as a laid-back guy who's been in some funny movies, but he really shows acting ability here and carries many of the scenes. Some of you may be disappointed by the fact Amanda Peet keeps her clothes on in the film, but this is actually a good thing, as she really tries to act, for once, and comes across quite convincingly. Throwing Ray Liotta and Jake Busey into the mix was very creative casting, as we immediately suspect these two characters based solely on the roles we associate with these actors. With a great cast, a great script, and a love it or hate it plot twist, IDENTITY is one of the best thrillers that I've seen in years.
(I normally don't notice or comment on errors in films, but I must mention two from IDENTITY. The first occurs at the 8:14 mark, where the speedometer of Cusack's car reads "0", although the car is clearly moving very fast. I wonder if it was being towed? The second occurs at the 54:02 point, where a character mentions an "Axis IV" mental condition. In reality, that should be "Axis I".)
IDENTITY reveals itself on DVD from Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The disc contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Despite all of the material contained on this DVD, this is a technically superior transfer. The image is very sharp and clear, revealing only the slightest amount of grain and some mild artifacting at times. The bulk of the movie takes places on a rainy night, but the action is never too dark and one can always tell what is happening. The colors look very good, and the image has a lot of depth. The only complaint that I have, and this may just be me, is that every single focus-pull is blatantly obvious here, and is quite distracting, almost as if the framing were slightly off. The DVD contains a robust Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which adds a ton of presence to the film. From the appearance of the Columbia logo, we are treated to the sound of the thunderstorm and it echoes throughout the surround sound channels. The thunder provides constant subwoofer action, and there is even the illusion of bass coming from the rear at times. However, the dialogue is always clear over the cacophony of the storm.
The DVD contains several extras. The disc offers an exclusive branched extended version of the film, which runs some one-minute seven seconds longer than the theatrical cut. This new version contains one additional scene and a few extra shots at the end. It's unclear whether or not this is a "director's cut". Whatever it is, it's not that different from the original version. In addition, there are four deleted scenes on the DVD (all of which look and sound great) which can be viewed with or without commentary from director James Mangold. But, all four scenes are brief and don't add to the story. Mangold also provides a feature-length commentary, in which he chats about the making of the film, the set, and the actors. His comments are informative, but very dry. More background info is provided by a segment from the cable TV show "STARZ: On the Set", entitled "The Secret Behind IDENTITY". This 15-minute featurette offers behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast & crew. The extras are rounded out by storyboard-to-film comparisons for 3 scenes, cast & crew filmograhpies, and the original theatrical trailer for IDENTITY, which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. In a surprising move, there are no bonus trailers here. The DVD cover art foregoes the bloody handprint art from the film's original one-sheet in favor of a "floating heads" graphic, but the bloody hand does appear on the DVD itself.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©