On a dark and rainy night, murderer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is about to be executed, unless the doctor (Alfred Molina) can convince the judge that heís not guilty by reason of insanity. And on a deserted road, a serious car accident brings together a mother (Leila Kenzle), her 9 year old son (Bret Loehr), and the boyís stepfather (John C. McGinley), with an ex-cop limo driver, Ed (John Cusack), his actress passenger (Rebecca DeMornay), and call girl Paris (Amanda Peet). Sheltering from the storm and seeking a working phone, they end up at the isolated Motel in the care of a nervous night manager (John Hawkes). Then a policeman (Ray Liotta) drives in with a handcuffed convicted killer (Jake Busey) on the way across country. One by one, the travellers are found dead Ė violently murdered; what the rest canít figure out is the thing they have in common - that is also their death warrants.†
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Iíll declare my bias first: I generally dislike films in which lightning flashes every four to five seconds for prolonged periods. Like the whole movie. This is partly because itís uncomfortable to watch Ė the filmmakers might think it keeps us on edge, and theyíre right. In other words, itís an effect, or to put it unkindly, an affectation by the filmmakers, and it signals a manipulative approach. But Identity begins with a superb set of scenes that suggest a challenging and intriguing film, one in which the audience is always off balance, and thrown off the scent. Itís a thriller with a touch of mysticism, but above all itís a kinda whodunit thrown into the tumble dryer Ė a metaphor that will have more meaning if youíve seen the film. The best part of the film is the first half, in which the characters are all established and their conflicts and contradictions are revealed. Although the premise has an old fashioned feel to it Ė 10 strangers in remote hotel on dark night, killed off one by one Ė it is sustained by its dynamics and its performances, which are intense, sometimes borderline hysterical in fact. Well, with the all action taking place at an isolated motel in the dark of night during an extended downpour, we can understand why. The script sets out to be clever and twisted, taking a multiple personality disorder and pumping up the condition to the max for the ultimate pscho-on-the-loose game. And sure enough, the film carries its suspense well, although it does get a bit much at times and the initial promise of mental satisfaction is replaced by the more common form of cinematic scare tactics. Where at the start the cinematic language is used to trigger both emotional and mental responses, this gives way to hollow and superficial trickery, and the all-important coda that wraps up the film feels too contrived to elevate the film to the classic status to which it aspires. Identity overdoes everything in its ideas bank, but if your movie palate is adjusted to big portions with the lot, youíll probably enjoy the excess. For me, itís too clever for its own storyline, yet too jumbled to be impressive.
Review by Louise Keller:
Itís what we donít know thatís most intriguing in Identity, a formulaic, sometimes scary whodunit psychological thriller with a twist. Each character has a hidden secret and their stories begin to unravel slowly, like a ball of wool that a cat has got its claws into. But itís the spectacular twist that makes the film unique, and unlike many such twists, it comes not at the end of the film, but three quarters of the way through. Director James Mangold uses all the tricks to get us in the mood Ė the relentless rain, the flashing lightening, the squeaking sign in the wind, the gate that flaps open, shadows that loom ominously and a rather heavy soundtrack that makes its point rather like a sledgehammer. But we are interested to learn about the characters. And theyíre an assorted bunch. A chauffeur who is less subservient than his actress passenger would wish; a girl in a hurry driving a convertible in the pouring rain; the honeymoon couple that is keeping a secret from each other; the mother, stepfather and young boy whose car has a flat tyre; the mysteriously shady motel night manager whose nerves seem on edge; the hard-nosed cop and his prisoner charge. And we also meet the killer whose execution is set for the following day, as he meets before a committee of medical and legal counsels. Using a technique by which the time frame jumps, so that we learn how the character actually comes to be in the situation, the information we learn about each one puts them into context. There are some chilling moments and my heart jumped several times. These are perhaps the filmís best scenes, when the unseen terror is at its greatest. As the body count begins to mount, the monotony sets in, and the action becomes rather repetitive. We do not become very attached to any of the characters, and I suspect this is why we donít really care what happens to them. The production design is impressive, with its monotonous shades and dimly lit settings, and I really like the way the scenes with the prisoner on death row are handled. Identityís main point of difference is its interesting concept, but it remains an average example of the genre.
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CAST: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Pruitt Taylor Vince
PRODUCER: Cathy Konrad
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
SCRIPT: Michael Cooney
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phedon Papamichael
EDITOR: David Brenner
MUSIC: Alan Silvestri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 31, 2003
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.