on December 9, 2004
After seeing the trailer for Identity (2003), I got the impression it was a horror film with a number of recognizable actors you wouldn't normally see in straight up horror film, and that intrigued me. After seeing the movie, feeling a little duped by the trailer (there's few things as aggravating as a misleading trailer, except for a trailer that shows all the best parts), I was a little surprised to see it was much more than I assumed, being a decent mystery/thriller with slight horror undertones. Directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted, Kate & Leopold), the film stars John Cusack (High Fidelity, Serendipity), Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman, Something's Gotta Give), and Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), three actors I generally like, although Liotta's star quality still suffers with me from his appearing in the 1997 turkeyfest Turbulence (a film which systematically dismantled Liotta's costar Lauren Holly's budding career, forcing her into the realm of television for quite some time). Other notable appearances are made by Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2), John C. McGinley (Stealing Harvard), Jake Busey (Fast Sofa), weird eye guy Pruitt Taylor Vince (Nurse Betty), and Rebecca De Mornay (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle), sporting the biggest set of fake hoo hoos I've seen in a long time.
The story, mostly taking place at a lonely Nevada motel, features a group of people brought together under curious and seemingly coincidental circumstances, stranded as they're caught in the middle of a heavy rainstorm (yes, it does rain in the desert on occasion, and usually pretty hard) due to the fact the road leading away from the motel in either direction is washed out. It's an interesting mix of characters, a limo driver (Cusack), a prostitute (Peet), an officer (Liotta) transporting a convicted criminal (Busey), a family of three, a newlywed couple, and a seemingly once popular actress, whose star has since faded (at the very least, she's still got the huge rack). Shortly after our soggy assemblage has an opportunity to get acquainted with each other, their number begins to dwindled as someone within the group is eliminating them one by one, leaving evidence indicating there may be a pattern. Maybe someone should call the police...but wait! The phones are out, and the only cell phone among the group can't make a connection (with the advent of cell phones, many thriller/horror films have had to resort to the old `I can't get a signal' contrivance to justify why a character can't phone for help, either that or they actually have the phone get damaged or the battery be depleted). Now, those who haven't suffered a terminal case of death must try and figure out not only who among them is a killer, but why (we later learn there's a connection between the individuals present), before those left meet the same, grisly fate.
The positives of the film are many, including a strong cast, led by Cusack (remember the days when he only seemed to do silly comedies? Who knew back then he would evolve into dramatic roles as well as he did?) and Liotta (the two played against each other nicely, enough so I wouldn't mind seeing them appear in something else together). The rest of the cast follows suit, but given the collective professional experience in their backgrounds, I wouldn't have expected less. The direction by Mangold is tight, and it's obvious he knows how to create suspense and deliver the goods (there were a few `pop outs', or basically throwing something at the viewer to create a quick, cheap scare, but Mangold seemed to be able to present it in such a way where it wasn't as obvious as it would have been with a lesser director). The photography was really beautiful, deftly using the rain in such a way as to accentuate the story, and also to keep the viewer engaged. I also thoughts the sets were detailed and realistic, giving the film a dark, brooding quality, much like that of David Fincher's film Se7en (1995). The biggest problem I had with the movie was related, in a small way, to the ending and the revelation of the identity of the killer in that films that utilized dream sequences (there are none here) or similar plot contrivances seem to use them in such a way as to forgo justifying various details and unexplained events as to say to the audience, `Well, because of the context of the occurrence of the details and/or events, we don't have provide any reasoning, and you just have to accept it'. Now, I don't need a reasoning or rational for everything, as I'd like to believe I'm intelligent enough to extrapolate these things from myself, so long as the story is adept enough to provide the basic necessities to do so...but that wasn't always the case here (an example being the entire Indian burial mounds aspect, and its' introduction with regards to the killings possibly being supernatural in nature). I did appreciate the inclusion of various clues, not so much relating to who the killer was, but who the killer wasn't. The concept put forth by the story in this regard certainly was interesting (and entertaining), but the execution seemed a little weak.
The DVD features both anamorphic widescreen (2:35:1) and the pan & scan (1:33:1), allowing the viewer to choose their preferred format, both looking very clean and sharp. The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and comes though very clearly. Special features include a commentary track by the director, a `Starz' on-set featurette, storyboard to scene comparisons, deleted scenes, selected filmographies, and the ability to choose to view the original theatrical release, or a slightly extended version of the film (I believe this last feature is only available in the widescreen format). Normally I'd probably rate this three stars, but due to the strengths (especially the cast), I'm willing to go to four stars. I'd recommend renting before buying, though, as I see little value in repeat viewings.