plot in a nutshell
Eleven strangers all end up trapped by a storm at a cheap motel in the
Nevada desert. There seems to be no relation between them - until they
begin to die, one by one. Who's the killer? And what does it all
have to do with another mass murderer, currently under psychiatric
evaluation and soon to be put to death?
The film is part horror, part
mystery, with a couple interesting twists thrown in for good measure.
Things are not always what they seem...
Spoiler Free Thoughts
At first, the premise for this film seems fairly basic - a group of people,
brought together by some force outside their control, are slowly killed off.
Ten Little Indians is the obviously similar movie, but others such as House
on Haunted Hill come to mind. But while this premise might seem
played, the director (James Mangold) and writer (Michael Cooney) use this
familiarity to lull you into believing you're watching one film when you're
really watching another.
ads and reviews when this film first came out have already given away the
fact that there's a twist, so that's not spoiling much. I won't get
into the details til my spoiler section, but suffice to say that it's well
written, clever and fairly unique. I've heard lots of people complain
that they were capable of figuring it out. Guess what - if a film is
well written, it SHOULD be possible to figure out what's up. If it's
not, then you're usually only getting part of the story or the writer is
cheating by actually creating implausible plot points. Here everything
makes sense, in the context of the story, and once all is revealed none of
it is difficult to understand. By
the way, if you think a movie isn't clever, witty or smart because you were
able to figure it out, what does that say about you?
Mangold hasn't done much directing yet, but what he has done has all been
fairly smart. Before Identity, there was Copland and Girl Interrupted,
and somehow Kate and Leopold snuck in there. Nobody is perfect.
He's obviously a director to watch though, and he did a superb job
developing tension and suspense.
Cooney has written even less, and this is his first real break out.
Prior to this we have the two Jack Frost killer snowman movies. I've
never been fortunate enough to catch one of these films, but I'm betting
they don't have quite the wit and style as Identity. Perhaps we'll see
other great things from him, now that he's proven his chops.
acting is fantastic, but that's not surprising considering the solid
talent. John Cusack, one of the best male leads these days, is Ed,
ex-cop and current limo driver. His current customer is Caroline
Suzanne, a washed up actress played perfectly by Rebecca De Mornay.
There's Ray Liotta as a cop, certainly a role he knows well. Jake Busey
plays a psychotic prisoner being transported by Liotta, and that's certainly
no real stretch for him either. Amanda Peet plays the ex-hooker, and the
always great John C. McGinley as George York, neurotic step-father.
The entire cast plays their stereotypical characters perfectly, and the fact
that they are stereotypes is crucial to the success of the film.
is a clever film, and a short one on top of it at just under an hour and a
half. That makes the overall story telling even more impressive, since
they manage to develop and interesting plot, fill it out well, and yet not
waste time on excessive explanations or verbose dialog. If you're
looking for an interesting film, with a few good jumps thrown in, you could
do a lot worse than Identity.
Rating - Buy It
is one that you *might* want to consider purchasing after you've watched
it. It will be worth repeat viewings, and it's one of those films
you'll enjoy sharing with others on stormy, dark nights. The DVD
carries both the theatrical version and an extended version, but I haven't
watched the extended version as of yet. I hear it's not a Peter
Jacksonesque extended version though with only a few seconds of additional
footage, and you don't lose much with the normal theatrical take.
Spoiler Laden Thoughts
Yes, it was clever, but there are a few things to question...
If you've wandered down into
this section, then you're prepared to talk about what's really
happening. Yep, it's all in the mind of a killer, one with split
personalities. These personalities aren't in any 'real' place, but
inside his mind, fighting for their lives. One of them is killing off
the others, and if Rivers (the only real person) has any chance of survival,
the worst of his personalities, the one that did all that killing years
before, has to be destroyed by the others.
But which one is the baddest of
the bad? Let's face it, Jake Busey is no sweetheart, and neither is
Ray Liotta. The fact that Liotta was another convict became apparent
when we see his bloody shirt, but it was still interesting to watch as he
was found out by the others. The eventual realization that it's little
Timmy might be seen by the careful observer - he is the last one to be with
his mother, he did cause his father to die, there was only one key when they
went to the burned out car, and he was in general a little on the freak-fest
side - but they still did a pretty good job of forcing you to focus on
Liotta. Some people have said they would have preferred if Peet was
actually the nut case, but that would have been a real cheat, since we'd
never seen any indication at all that she was capable of such things.
The fact that it was all in one
man's mind was also telegraphed early, or at least that something wasn't
quite right. When Busey ran but ended up back at the motel, that was a
pretty good clue that this reality wasn't quite what it seemed to be.
Still, they kept this twist a secret just long enough, and I was happy with
how and when it was revealed.
There are a couple open
questions though. Who were the dead cop and the dead motel
owner? Where they part of his multiple personalities, or were they
simply props in his mind? Since both are already dead in this little
play, I felt they were nothing more than props, similar to the motel itself,
and simply helped move the story along in Rivers' mind.
Another question, or more
accurately an odd feeling scene, is when Cusack goes looking for the first
person to die, the actress he had been driving. In the film he is by
himself, and finds the shower curtain rod clips, leading him to the
laundry. But it seems disjointed, since even seeing and recognizing
the clip for what it was is a stretch. On top of that, when Larry and
Rhodes show up at the laundry after him, they don't seem in the least
surprised that he's there, or wonder what's going on. There is a
deleted scene on the DVD that shows the extended version of this scene, in
which the three of them together are actually all looking for the actress,
and while it made the film a couple minutes longer (and had an unnecessary
scene of humor that may have broken the tension), at least it made more
sense than the final cut.
I was also a little unclear as
to why the doctor felt that some other personality other than the worst of
the worst would come out on top. Wouldn't it seem more likely that the
most violent, most disturbed, and most willing to destroy of the
personalities would be the one most likely to destroy the others?
Finally, there's an interesting
tie between the number of killings in Rivers' mind and the number of real
murders he's committed. He killed 6 people at the apartment complex -
he kills six personalities at the motel. The seventh, eighth and
nineth personalities kill each other. And then he kills the final one,
Paris, at the same time he kills his doctor in 'real' life, matching the
killings again. If Rivers has no more personalities, will he kill
This is certainly the kind of
film you can watch more than once and get more out of with each viewing.