Worth A Look: 31.64%
Pretty Bad: 14.69%
Total Crap: 11.3%
9 reviews, 123 user ratings
by Doug Bentin
No suspense film is more fun than one with tricky plotting that shifts around all the time and seems destined to end up at point A, but then spins around at the last minute and sends you to point X. When it doesn’t work, as it didn’t in “Basic,” which opened not too long before “Identity,” you’re left with the feeling that you want to hurl something at the screen. Like the writer, for instance. Or at least, his head.But when it does work, oh baby. I remember throwing a paperback mystery across the room once because I had been so beautifully hornswaggled by the author—Agatha Christie, no less. Yeah. Welcome to the club.
"“Identity” is a dream movie for people who love thrillers."
Christie’s work is an obvious influence on “Identity.” The movie is much more brutal than Christie ever was, although the blood we see is that which has already been spilled. Director James Mangold (“Girl, Interrupted” “Kate & Leopold”) creates a sense of dread and impending doom without a show of onscreen bloodletting. But one of the characters in Michael Cooney’s deft script reminds us of Christie’s classic stage thriller “Ten Little Indians,” and there is homage to Christie aplenty. I won’t go into details because to do so might reveal plot twists to Dame Agatha’s fans. In fact, you may not realize how much debt the script owes to Christie until you think later about what you saw.
John Cusack stars as Ed, an ex-cop and burnt out case who now works as a chauffeur for a bitchy movie star on the way down (Rebecca DeMorney). While squabbling in the car, Ed hits a woman standing on the rainy highway. The woman and her husband and son stopped on the road because they had a blow-out caused by the lost high heel of a Vegas hooker (Amanda Peet) on her way to purchase an orange grove in Florida.
All these people, in addition to a pair of young newly weds whose marriage is based on a lie, and a cop (Ray Liotta) who is transporting a vicious killer (Jake Busey) on his way to his execution, are forced by a relentless storm to stop at a run down motel.
Just after the con escapes, people begin to die. The hand of each corpse is clutching a key to one of the motel’s cabins, beginning with number 10 and counting backwards. “Ten Little Indians,” indeed.
It all seems like updated Christie until the escaped con, running away from the motel we see behind him, sees buildings with lights in their windows in front of him. He approaches one of them, crawls through a window, crosses the room and looks out the front window only to see that he is back in the motel.
Earlier, Ed had been reading Jean Paul Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness.” Could the motel be a hell from which there is no escape?
And then the corpses of the victims begin to disappear. And everyone discovers that they share the same birthday.
One impossibility is piled atop another, and the rain continues to fall on just and unjust alike.
It’s all unraveled after a pair of false endings. I was perfectly pleased with the resolution, but I overheard a number of groans on the way out of the theater. Yes, film displays for the most part a realistic representation of the world around us—but that doesn’t mean you have to believe in the verity of everything you see on the screen. Moviegoers who think nothing of unreliable narrative in novels rebel when faced with a similar technique in film. Hitchcock faced a similar reaction on the release of “Stage Fright,” as did Christie herself with the publication of her most notorious least likely culprit mystery. I can’t even tell you which one it is. Just remember that liars tell stories, too. You could even say that anyone who tells a story is a liar.
I won’t say any more about this for fear of leading you astray, and I wouldn’t want to do that. Heh heh heh.
The cast is uniformly good and includes Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, John Hawkes and William Lee Scott.
You don’t have to know anything about Agatha Christie or Jean Paul Sartre to enjoy “Identity,” but you do have to know something about them to smile at the notion of the two of them being mentioned in one sentence in a movie review.I was disappointed when “Identity, unlike “The Ring,” “Joy Ride,” and “The Sixth Sense,” did not turn out to be a sleeper hit because, despite the plethora of failures, I like tricky thrillers. This is one of the good ones. See it with someone you like to argue with.
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originally posted: 09/29/05 02:16:15