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 he’s 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 boy’s 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 – violently murdered; what the rest can’t figure out is the thing they have in common - that is also their death warrants.
Review by Louise Keller:
It’s what we don’t know that’s 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 it’s 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 – 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 they’re 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 film’s 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 don’t 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. Identity’s main point of difference is its interesting concept, but it remains an average example of the genre.
The two audio commentaries on the DVD are the most interesting part of the special features package, but many will be interested in the storyboard comparisons and deleted scenes.
Director James Mangold warns that his commentary (for the theatrical and the extended version) is on the assumption that the viewer has already seen the film. He was introduced to the script when his producer wife Cathy Konrad bought it, with the intention of producing a low-budget thriller. At the time it was called ID and Mangold was mixing and scoring his then current project Kate and Leopold. Over coffee one morning he discussed it with his wife, saying he would be interested to make it. He was especially interested about single-location films (like Rear Window, Lifeboat or Alien) and in which a single group of strangers or travellers are trapped within a certain locale and forced to confront some kind of dark secret. Themes of darkness, survival and human spirit that get explored in them are of special interest to him.
I am always interested in the writer’s commentary, which gives yet another perspective on the material and the film’s aims. Michael Cooney talks about the collaboration between not only himself, Mangold and Konrad, but how this artform of movie making is holistic, being the result of so much input from so many different talents.
There are four deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary plus three interesting storyboard comparisons, which show the movie action together with script and sketches of what was anticipated.
Published November 6, 2003
Email this article
BUY IT HERE
IDENTITY: DVD (MA)
CAST: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Pruitt Taylor Vince
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
SCRIPT: Michael Cooney
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
PRESENTATION: English (5.1), Italian (5.1), Russian (5.1); Widescreen (2.40:1/16:9 Enhanced)
SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director James Mangold, Audio commentary by writer Michael Cooney, deleted scenes with optional director commentary; behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the movie; storyboard to final film comparisons of 3 key sequences; trailer; movie trailers; talent profiles;
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: November 12, 2003