Identity (2003)

Dramatic, suspenseful, scary and surprising!


Psychological thrillers don't get much better than this (but still...)
Even if you want them this time!

A pox on all film critics who give away plot points of the subject matter! A Pox upon them! Sure this includes me sometimes when dealing with an older movie, or a TV show, but if that's the case I give a "Spoiler Warning" so as not to hose the fans! In cases in which I protect the surprises I put up my handy "No Spoilers" Icon as seen above. For all of you reviewers who love to set up a plot far more than is necessary (thank you SO much Paul Tatara of CNN.COM for revealing in your review one of the potentially most shocking parts of Insomnia) a Pox on all of you! Especially when it comes to Identity! Why anyone would want some of the more shocking moments of this fine film revealed to them is beyond me. But even with such spoilers, Identity was full of excellent surprises and twists that M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of! Identity is one of the best thrillers I've ever seen! It's surprising, thrilling, keeps you guessing, and well worth watching! It's just too bad that at the end (the very end) it collapses under its own weight! Unfortunately this film is the victim of a preset ending that the producers seemed afraid to let go of. It felt like they required one last surprise to smooth things over... sadly this last surprise is really rather... dumb. Notice the generalities I am speaking in here? It's because I want you to see this movie un-tainted. What are these surprises? Go see for yourself!

Oh, man! I'm still tripping on this movie! Identity begins with a terrible rain storm in Nevada desert where rain is scarce. Needless to say neither the drivers, nor the people who created the highways were thinking of floods when they began. As a consequence, several strangers set into motion by a variety of chances all become stuck at a fleabag motel without even the Bates Mansion to hide its secrets. Each of these personalities, twelve in all (counting the Motel Clerk), are just about as different as can be, but share one inexorable link (one which I care too much about you to reveal). This link manifests itself in various ways throughout the film, and it's interesting to try and catch them all!

Through the course of the story it is revealed that one of the characters has committed multiple homicides, and is unquestionably at it all over again. The question is... which one? One by one the guests start meeting their untimely ends. Step by step throughout the film there are red herrings and absolute "I figured this out" certainty, and in each case the mind changes but quick. Each scene is a new layer adding more and more fascinating information, but at the same time, leaving the viewer more confused than ever. This is no remake of And Then There Were None! While that Element is there, there is so much more to this horror film. This is likewise no typical slasher movie! Further the various implausible moments (not that there are many) are squared away during the climactic finale.

This film is very well directed and is suggestive in its clues, never explicit! There are no camera pans to say "Oh, look, a bloody print!" For a change, the director (in this case James Mangold) trusts that we all have our contacts in, and can see the clues in the corner of the screen, or out of focus behind the speaking character! They don't see it... we do! (As a consequence, if you're renting or buying this film please get the Letterbox edition, or else you'll miss quite a lot of these hints!) Such subtlety really brings the viewer into the action. Similar to an X-Files Episode there is so much that you do not see (or may not have seen) that is scary as hell! The cinematography is likewise interesting. In every movie there is at least one scene in which the camera must refocus from one focal point to another. Sure, in Identity they leave much of the hints in the background, but it still has to happen during Dialogue parts. Here there is an unsettling lens-twist for refocusing (Cinematographers help me out here) that causes a quick jump of Point of View rather than a fade. It's very effective and really helps to set the uneasy mood! Mangold also directs the strong cast to a subdued horror that prevents too much melodrama from creeping in. In that some of the characters are quite realistic, and some are almost caricatures of reality (the over selfish actress on the decline, the creepy Motel operator, the over the top Mr. Mom) there is some melodrama to be seen, but it compliments the characters and never falls into a Shatnerian Over Acting (well... almost never)!

John Cusack is better than ever in his role as a Limousine Driver with a Police background. Cusack has shown himself to be pretty much A-List from Gross Point Blank to the present (romantic Comedies like Serendipity notwithstanding), and he shows it more than ever here. He truly feels like a good guy throughout who is trying to do the right thing. Rebecca DeMornay plays the aforementioned actress who constantly believes she deserves more. DeMornay deserves more... She's still pretty damned good. Ray Liotta is both sinister and trust-inspiring as the prisoner transporter of convict Jake Busey (in horrid overacting mode rarely seen since the Frighteners). There's a reason why John C. McGinley isn't a household name, even though he should be! It's because he so immerses himself in every character he plays that they rarely ever seem like the same actor! He is so unique here as the troubled husband of an injured Mom that you never think of him as Dr. Cox from Scrubs! X-Files fan favorite John Hawkes is creepy and Bug-Eyed as Larry (one of the Motel Clerks)! It's the lovely Amanda Peet who steals the show though as Paris, an Ex-Hooker looking to turn her life around! Though unfortunately never nude, she is so natural and sexy in this part that her subplot(s) tend to dominate attention.

All of these characters are suspects at one time or another, and for many reasons you are convinced you're right each time. The real culprit? Go see for yourself! The suspense is so thick that even when you know, either because of some other review, or just a gut feeling, that something's going to happen you're incredibly frightened anyway! My blood ran cold more than once during the watching of this film!

I'd love to stellarize this review more than I have already, but I can't. There are a couple of melodramatic moments (as I said) that aren't distracting from the plot, but Jake Busey seems like he's psyched himself out to play one certain character and he wants to ham it up like he's Hannibal Lector or someone. There is one death scene involving explosives that no matter how many times I think about it, I can't make sense of. And the ending! Okay, Identity is at least 5 minutes too long. They had a perfect ending that I was feeling good about, but they decided to tack on a second ending that pretty much could have been flushed down the Route 66 Texaco Commode, man! I walked out pretty angry about the whole scenario. Sure, it was a surprise, but it wasn't a necessary surprise! Don't get me wrong... it made sense, if you went back and reviewed the appropriate segments you see how everything fell into place (no Gregory Benford award here), I just left feeling pretty cheated by the whole thing. Still everything else in this movie is so remarkably good that Identity still garnered four stars!

I hope this movie makes back a huge sum of money just to show Hollywood that you don't have to be explicit all the time to make a great film, nor do you need a massive budget. I was enthralled from the first second to the last and that was without the director holding my hand and saying "Look, that door is opening... something's happening... Look, bloody prints... ah? Ah?" I just hope that the learned lesson here isn't to throw in a Surprise ending that will piss off the audience just to get a shock reaction. Why bother? Ho-Hum! Great movie, though! And even the parts I hated still fit into place like the puzzle pieces of The Sixth Sense! At least I liked ending of that one though! Why couldn't this have been as closely guarded a secret as that Venerable film? A Pox on you all, man!

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Identity reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is responsible for his own opinions on this film, and his pants!
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