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Identity

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Identity

Starring: John Cusack, Alfred Molina
Director: James Mangold
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: April 2003
Genre: Suspense


*Also starring: Amanda Peet, Ray Liotta, Rebecca DeMornay, Clea Duvall, John C. McGinley, Jake Busey, William Lee Scott, John Hawkes



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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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4.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

"Identity" could make you think of the nursery rhyme, "One little, two little, three little Indians/ Four little, five little, six little I Indians...from which Agatha Christie got the title of one of her most popular mysteries, "Ten Little Indians." Christie's story may have inspired James Mangold's film written by Michael Cooney in that the British novelist's premise is that people with guilty secrets are placed in a fish bowl of fear and tension. Each has committed an unsolved murder and the host, unknown to them, is seeking a lethal kind of justice. The pressure is unrelenting as the guests scramble to escape form the mansion before they are murdered, one by one, in accordance with the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme hanging over the fireplace.

However If James Mangold, known principally for his character- driven "Girl Interrupted" about a girl who enters a mental institution at the age of 18 thinking she's normal compared to most of the others were to follow in Ms. Christie's footsteps, his new movie would not be the original thriller that it is. "Identity" combines the genres of horror, psychological puzzle, and detective story so well that the audience will be stumped throughout trying to guess the identity of a mass murderer while at the same time on the edge of their seats as the well-paced, exquisitely acted story unravels. While granting that Mangold employs cliches--the severed head found in a washing machine and the large, frightening shadow of a person holding a knife aloft, the dark and stormy night that frames virtually the entire piece the script is ingenious. When the picture ends, you're likely to say, "Aha, now it all fits," while at the same time you'll probably admit that you would never have guessed the solution.

"Identity" has the kind of plot that could be performed on the legitimate stage given that most of the action takes place in and around a motel located out in nowhere and the people who are reluctant guests are in effect locked in place as though characters from Sartre's existential play "No Exit." How scripter Michael Cooney gets them there is the easy part; how Cooney and Mangold work out their interaction is the clever part. Here's the outline...

Because a torrential rainstorm has caused flooding, making further travel away from a motel impossible, a group of people are forced to stop by a motel. The citizens are diverse in every way except their birthdays: all celebrate on May 10th which by the way, is not so improbable...the odds that a group of ten would celebrate the same month and day is one in eight. When the residents are picked off by a madman who ostensibly wants revenge against people born on May 10th, Ed (John Cusack) is determined to locate the perp to stop further killings. Ed is a former cop who quit the force and is now the hired driver of an actress, Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay). When Ed accidentally runs down a woman (Leila Kenzle) who is the mother of a 10-year-old mute boy (Bret Loehr) and wife of the ditzy George (John C. McGinley), Ed does the right thing and transports the three along with his boss to a motel run by Larry (John Hawkes). Soon afterward, a prostitute on her way to Florida, Paris (Amanda Peet) and a pair of newlyweds Ginny (Clea DuVall and Lou (William Lee Scott), are forced off the road into the motel. In the tradition of slasher films, a murder takes place, oh, about every half hour, while both Ed and a cop (Ray Liotta) who is transporting a convicted murder (Jake Busey) race frantically to uncover the mystery before the entire residence posts a vacancy sign for all of its rooms.

The part of the film that demands your close attention is the several flashback scenes, most of which take place around a table where a psychiatrist (Alfred Molina) together with a defense attorney tries to convince a judge that his patient (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a convicted mass murderer scheduled for execution in 24 hours, should be declared insane and sent to a state hospital. What's confusing until the final sequences is that the flashbacks are so apparently unrelated to what's going on in the motel.

"Identity" is a complex work with the cleverest twist of the movie season so far this year. What makes this aspect so alluring is that in the film's climax, just as you think the story is over and that Mangold is going to proceed to a denouement, there arises yet another spin that easily tops the preceding one. While "Identity" is a commercial movie, then, it bears the signature of a high-budget indie, with the kind of plot that often shows up in art houses, e.g. Christopher Nolan's psychological stunner "Memento" (about a man with short-term memory loss who tries to keep his life in order while avenging his wife' murder) and Henri- Georges Clouzot's "Diabolique" (wherein a tyrannical schoolmaster is killed by his long-suffering wife and mistress, a classic chiller that builds slowly until the final quarter hour, to quote Leonard Maltin, "will drive you up a wall.")

So, if you're in the mood to be driven up a wall by a film that is emotionally gripping without chucking its mind, "Identity" is the one.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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