As I was going up the stair
One of the most satisfying movies of the year, Identity is an imaginative blend of the horror, mystery, and psychological thriller genres. Coming at you from one direction and deftly turning the tables in the final minutes, this adult thriller is in the same vein as The Sixth Sense and will make you re-evaluate the movie you're watching. With a delicious twist in the third act, Identity's resolution is one of the most refreshing in some time.
Facts of the Case
Less than a day before he is to be executed, convicted murderer Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince, The Cell, Nurse Betty), has been granted one last appeal to possibly save his life. His defense team has found a misfiled notebook of Rivers' that gives credence to the diagnosis that he suffers from Associative Disorder—multiple personalities. His lawyer brings in a renowned doctor (Alfred Molina, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chocolat, Boogie Nights) to prove to the judge that his client is not aware of his crimes and cannot be executed.
As the lawyers, doctor, and judge await the arrival of Rivers to the courthouse from lockup, we are introduced to a group of individuals who are driving in the Nevada desert. First there's Paris (Amada Peet, The Whole Nine Yards, Whipped), a hooker who's looking to change her life and move back to her home state of Florida. Then there's limo driver Ed (John Cusack, Being John Malkovich, Pushing Tin, High Fidelity), who is currently doing duty for waning starlet Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca DeMornay, Risky Business, Backdraft, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle). Also on that road is the York family, George (John C. McGinley, Office Space, Any Given Sunday, Scrubs), Alice, and son Timmy.
As Paris drives her convertible along, she reaches for a lighter in her luggage in the backseat; when she opens the suitcase, the wind tears open the bag and some of her clothes and shoes get strewn onto the road behind her. Seeing a building storm up ahead, she continues on, not retrieving her clothes.
Soon the storm hits full force, and George is doing his best to pay attention to the road; unfortunately he runs over something in the road, causing one of his tires to go flat. He and his wife go out to change the tire, and George is surprised to find a high-heeled shoe lodged in the treads.
Up the road a few miles, Ed is trying to ignore the prima donna in the backseat, who continues to protest her "shabby treatment" on a movie set. As Caroline continues to complain, her cell phone battery goes dead; she then demands Ed find her spare in her Louis Vuitton bag in the front seat. Momentarily distracted, Ed takes his eyes off the road and crashes into Alice York.
Soon, Ed, Caroline, and the York family arrive at a nearby motel, looking for a phone. There they meet Larry (John Hawkes, Rush Hour, Blue Streak), the manager, who informs them the phone lines are down. The only recourse is for Ed to drive thirty miles to the nearest hospital for help. But he doesn't make it two miles before the road becomes washed out; there he finds Paris, stalled in her car. He picks her up, tries to cross the flooded road, and soon finds himself stuck too. Just then, Ginny (Clea Duvall, Ghosts of Mars, Girl, Interrupted) and Lou (William Lee Scott, Pearl Harbor, October Sky) pull up and they take Ed and Paris back to the motel. Within minutes, another car pulls up at the hotel. Inside is Officer Rhodes (Ray Liotta, John Q, Narc, Heartbreakers), who is transporting a convicted murderer.
As if the situation were not dire enough, someone begins killing the ten strangers. On each of their dead bodies is found a room key, starting at ten and counting down with each new body. The obvious suspect is our convicted murderer, but is it really him? Is it someone else? Was it purely random circumstance that brought these people together tonight? With each passing minute, the tension mounts and the survivors realize that they are mysteriously connected. Who will survive the night?
My description does not begin to do justice to this film. While trying to give an outline of the general events of Identity, I've also had to be especially vague on some details so as to not reveal any of the juicy developments in the movie. Watching the film will reveal to you the implicit delights of this well-crafted piece. There are four things that come together that help make this film a true gem: the story, the acting, the ambience, and the direction.
On the one hand, the story for Identity begins as your run-of-the-mill horror flick. People are put into a situation with no easy exit, and they eventually begin to die. One of them is a murderer, and it's up to the rest to survive and stop the mad person before he or she kills them all. That's what this film appears to be, but it's merely an allusion to the true plot. There is an ulterior motive to the film, one smartly crafted for you not to notice, even with numerous clues left behind. Only when the ultimate twist is revealed do you see how you've been expertly misled. At first, you may not appreciate the sudden new direction of the piece, but you'll find yourself rehashing the film and analyzing it to see if it all makes sense. You'll want to see it again to learn if it holds true to itself, much like the feeling you had after seeing The Sixth Sense. What you may have believed true was a charade. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." It's this adult-oriented aspect of the storytelling that helps elevate it above so many other juvenile attempts at a thriller.
But we all know that a good story can fall apart if you have the wrong group of actors on board. This is most definitely not the case here, as the collected ensemble is nearly perfect. Cult favorite John Cusack leads the cast of hapless people trapped in this mind-numbing situation. With the backing of an excellent supporting cast, Identity pulls you in, and you're immediately linked to the peril of these people. You can feel the terror mount as the situation unfolds, you believe that they're trapped, and you get agitated wondering who will survive and how. Everyone in the cast, even down to the child actor, gives a riveting performance: Amanda Peet is the hooker with the heart of gold; John Cusack is a man of many layers and talents; and Ray Liotta is the weary and stressed cop.
Many have joked about the fact that Identity takes place during a storm: a storm bordering on a monsoon. The rain, thunder, and lightning are relentless during the briskly paced film, and I enjoyed how it added a sense of danger and claustrophobia to the movie. Every action was tempered by the downfall, everyone had to cope with the pounding rain, and everything became mysterious as the downpour obscured it. Though many feel it was too wet, I found it a fascinating eleventh character.
And putting this all together with masterful direction was James Mangold (Kate & Leopold, Girl, Interrupted, Cop Land). Bringing the best out of every person in the cast and crew, Mangold crafted a slick and rewarding movie that goes in a bold, new direction and refuses to take the easy way out. Instead of following the clichéd formulas, Mangold broke new ground with the story and the characters and breathed new life into the genre: an intelligent, adult thriller.
Coming out a mere five months after its showing in theaters, Identity also happens to be one of the most gratifying DVDs I've seen in some time. From the transfers to the extras, this is a solid package. Quite simply, the transfers are just about perfect; I could not find any errors whatsoever. The video is presented in a beautiful 2.40:1 anamorphic print (or, if you are silly enough, a full frame option is also available) with excellent colors, rich blacks (which are exceptionally important in this film that takes place at night), and superb contrast and detail. Because of the constant rain and the overnight timeframe, the film is ripe for artifacting, shimmering, or pixelization. But, again, you'll find none of these. Well done! The audio is an incredible 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that really makes you feel part of the action. From the crisp, clear dialogue, to the impressive bass, to the fantastic use of the surrounds, the audio transfer is among the best I've heard. You'll be surprised how well every channel is used for a film that, at first glance, wouldn't appear to have the need for an active soundtrack. Kudos!
The bonus materials combine to paint a very nice portrait of the film and its background. First up is a first-rate audio commentary by James Mangold. He imparts a great deal of information about the script, the actors, the sets, and just about everything else related to the film. I learned a great deal and enjoyed it thoroughly. My only qualm is that there are two times when he doesn't speak, and one of those is during the very final minutes of the film. I think there are a few points that could have been expounded upon at that moment, so I'm confused about his lapse. Next up is the "Starz—On the Set" featurette, clocking in at 13 minutes. Expecting your usual fluff piece, I was surprised that this was immensely better than anticipated. It presented some quality information with excellent interviews of the cast. This makes me hope that studios will ditch the "HBO" version for this better "Starz" version. Next are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Mangold. Unfortunately, Mangold's commentary is useless as he basically says "I had to cut these for pacing and time." Like we haven't heard that a million times before. Fortunately, though, three of the scenes themselves are interesting expansions of current scenes and add a nice little touch. Rounding out the features are some storyboard comparisons, the theatrical trailer, and some filmographies.
But, wait, there is more! Advertised is "the option to view the exclusive branched version of the film with alternative ending and additional scene." Well, let me tell you, I watched both versions of the film, and I could not see any significant difference. I didn't analyze every frame of the ending, so I think I may have seen something, but I'm not sure. For an "alternative ending," it wasn't all that alternative. However, maybe this new scene and the ending explain the two gaps in Mangold's commentary? Again, I don't know.
In the never-ending quest for DVD enthusiasts to wipe out the dreaded full frame version of films, Identity offers additional firepower to our arsenal. While the film offers both widescreen and full frame options, you can only view the branching version of the film in the widescreen format. Further, Mangold's commentary often details how great it is to film in the widescreen format, allowing the director to really craft a scene in different ways. Perhaps a couple people, after hearing him speak, will be tempted to give up the dreaded hack and scan.
And, lastly, I want to make note of the fine menu interface. It's simple, effective, and nicely evokes the feeling of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When I first saw Identity in the theater, I was a bit taken aback by the twist that comes into play in the final act. As a matter of fact, I actually didn't care for it at first as it has such a profound change on the entirety of the film. But, as I mentioned earlier, the twist was so ingenious, so fresh, and so different, it really made me think about the film. Unless Identity was going to become yet another average member of the horror pantheon, there was no other alternative for the film to take. The twist is clever and so far unique, but it may take a little bit of adjustment. If you find yourself in the same boat, let it sink in for a bit; then, go ahead and view the film again and you may find it better the second time around.
Identity is one of those rare films that beats your expectations. You see the trailer, think it looks good, and then find yourself wonderfully surprised that there is actually more than what the preview shows you. With an excellent story, marvelous twist, remarkable acting, and inspired direction, Identity hits every mark and is a movie that you should definitely see. With flawless transfers and solid extras, it will make a perfect quality addition to your DVD collection.
All charges against Identity are found without merit and hereby dropped. This disc is remanded to your custody for your viewing pleasure.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director James Mangold
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