Film Review Archive


Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Identity is an Agatha Christie-esque mystery with a twist, directed by James Mangold. The beginning of this film is promising, if confusing: we are introduced to the ten characters who will find themselves stranded together in a Nevada motel on a stormy night. The movie replays the same segment of time from different points of view to explain how each character gets there. There is one piece of the puzzle we're given at the beginning that seems not to fit, and that nags at the back of one's mind until the plot finally discloses itself which, unfortunately, occurs too early (about a third to a half-way through). The result of this disclosure is to drain most of the tension and excitement out of the mystery-thriller plot, so that the finale's attempt to add another twist feels like a blip on the heart monitor of a flatlined corpse who is definitely not going to revive.

Some of the actors are very good: Amanda Peet starts out credible, though ultimately she's forced into the lame stereotype of the whore with a heart of gold; John Cusack, on the other hand, is fabulous as always, lending depth and interest to his everyman character as a movie actress's chauffeur. The movie's worth is all, I think, in watching him. Ray Liotta, playing a cop who's delivering a serial murderer to prison, is disappointing for the sudden veering into hysteria that seems to have no rhyme or reason. The guy who plays the motel clerk and serves as comic relief is also quite good. The real star of the film, though, is the backdrop: relentless rain, eerie night reflections, the shabby Psycho-like motel. I couldn't shake the atmosphere for hours.

Following a recently revived trend in mystery-thrillers to reveal that the true mystery lies within the twisted caverns of the human mind, Identity surprises us by turning surreal-we move a little too rapidly from Agatha Christie to B-horror movie to the likes of The Sixth Sense or Memento. Two out of three might have been okay, but all three genres make this movie a badly stitched-together mish mash that, while delivering enough thrills and frights to keep one from dozing off, fails to sustain the curiosity and sense of adventure needed for an audience to feel completely satisfied. It's too bad-the concept was promising. What the plot lacks is a way to unfold that lets you feel the pleasure of figuring it out, of having the realization slowly or suddenly dawn on you as though you actually had to discover it for yourself.

Ideologically, this movie is incredibly cynical about human nature, about the possibilities for rehabilitation for the criminal and the mentally ill. Even if a part of you does want to do good, Identity suggests, the bad within will always triumph. Sadly enough, it also toes an old-fashioned moralistic line about women and, like so many movies these days, has to blame their sexual habits for the waywardness of men and the evil that lurks in their hearts and minds. One good thing though: at least we don't get some stupid sob story about how the guy was abused as a child by his mother. Not a lot to be grateful for, is it?

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.