Stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rainstorm, ten strangers become acquainted with each other when they realize that they’re being killed off one by one.
The 2003 theatrical debut of “Identity” was a slam dunk for movie plotlines. I remember seeing this one live and thinking, “wow! what a brilliant film that I couldn’t wait to tell others about”. Maybe it’s “Identity’s” intricate approach to storytelling or its fantastic cast of actors, however in short…. it simply all worked extremely well for my interests at the time. I was long over due for getting this one reviewed and documented.
“Identity” in its simple nature is a story about aN apprehended serial killer who is just on the cusp of being executed per the “death penalty”. His character Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) has been found guilty of several brutal murders, however his physiatrist Dr. Malick (Alfred Molina) believes that Rivers suffers from a multiple-personality-disorder creating a legal conflict if found clinically insane. This presents an issue that would prevent the state movng forward on the execution if proven to be true.
As this story begins, we are removed from this plot almost entirely into a rainy night that has a group of travelers stranded at a small off road motel. One circumstance weaves into the other with one of those clever Tarantino-style storylines placing time-based events just out of sync with each other. This leads to pulling them all right back into a convenient small off road setting.
We have Ed (John Cusack), the limo driver, Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay), the aged movie star, Rhodes (Ray Liotta) the policeman, Paris (Amanda Peet) the hooker, Ginny (Clea DuVall) and her boyfriend Lou (William Lee Scott), George York (John C. McGinley) accompanied by his wife and son, and Robert Maine (Jake Busey) the convicted-killer prisoner.
As they each arrive they are given a room key which becomes central to how the story unfolds. The roads are blocked due to the weather, so each is forced to interact in this small locale. With a prisoner on hand, they become unsettled, but its York’s injured wife that really gets things started. When Robert Maine escapes, the team instantly assumes he is responsible for the deaths that are occurring. however this only provides the kind of misdirection to occur that complicates their experience (and understanding).
You might think that with so many characters introduced in a short amount of time, the film might suffer from too much too soon. However this in where the brilliance of Michael Cooney’s storytelling and James Mangold’s directing really comes to the forefront making it all seamlessly work. And work it does keeping the pace driving from one moment into the next. It keeps you guessing to the beat of a great mystery thriller combined with carefully placed horror elements. One might question the connection, the moving subplots, “and” the inclusion of a supernatural elements…however it just manages to make sense in the end.
As the occupants of this motel begin to die off, they realize that the deaths are connected with the order of the room numbers. It begins to raise suspicion with careful misdirection that pulls focus from one character to the next. Meanwhile, we are reminded that another story is in progress which is the ordeal of serial killer Rivers. This aspect “seems” unrelated but is key to the root of everything. Even when we discover its “secret”, it doesn’t stop the story from continuing forward. It was at this point that I was beginning to question if it was a case of too early reveal spoiling the fun. However this also becomes a part of its brilliance and surprise.
“Identity” is so cleverly written that much of its reveal is staring you right in the face. Even when the film reveals its secret premise, it continues to challenge that by adding on additional levels of plot change.
It was reported that the film is built around a literary structure similar to the Agatha Christie novel “And Then There Were None“. Whether derivative or not, its still a master work of cinematic achievement. The film was deemed a box office success due to its star appeal and word of mouth that brought over $90 million in box office returns. Highly recommended, this film should make your “best of” selections for films to revisit time and time again. Since my original theatrical visit, I’ve watched the film no less than 7 times.