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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #404

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 25, 2003
Sub-Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $28,000,000
Box Office: $90,259,536
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Cathy Konrad
Screenplay: Michael Cooney
Special Effects: Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero
Visual Effects: Robert Stromberg, David Ebner
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael Jr.
Score: Alan Silvestri
Editing: David Brenner
Studio: Konrad Pictures
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea DuVall, Rebecca De Mornay, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Jake Busey, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Leila Kenzle, Bret Loehr

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Alan Silvestri Soundtrack Suite

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I’m sure I speak for the majority when I say that we all love a good murder mystery. Back in the day, I would love nothing more than my chance to play detective and try and deduce whether, as suspected, Professor Plum did it in the library with the candlestick. I didn’t officially start watching horror films until around my tenth birthday but Agatha Christie was still fair game and some of my earliest recorded filmic memories came courtesy of Peter Collinson’s adaptation of Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were None known as Ten Little Indians. While James Mangold’s Identity may not to be of that calibre, it is undoubtedly one of the better suspense mysteries to have surfaced post-millennium.

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If I were to tell you that the screenplay was devised by London-born Michael Cooney whose previous efforts included Jack Frost and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, then you would likely assume the worst. However, Cooney’s tight and clever script is one of the reasons why Identity works on so many levels. He has since gone on to pen Roland Suso Richter’s workmanlike The I Inside and Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein’s grossly underrated 6 Souls but it is here that the stars aligned for Cooney.

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Identity tells the tale of a gaggle of straggling wayfarers, all well and truly shafted by a momentous storm, and stranded at an isolated Nevada motel until it passes. These include a limousine driver, washed-up actress, cop transporting a convict across states, call girl, some newlyweds, and a wholesome all-American family. That’s quite the assemblage right there and Mangold’s next success is his casting as the roll call is simply divine. How does John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Rebecca DeMornay, Amanda Peet, Clea DuVall, and John C. McGinley grab you for starters? It is the lattermost that I wish to focus on first as I have been something of a McGinley cheerleader ever since he whined his way through Platoon.

IDENTITY, John C. Mcginley, Leila Kenzie, 2003, (c) Columbia

As well as gifting me Sergeant O’Neill in what will always be my personal darling Nam movie, he has also appeared in a number of movies which I hold particularly dear. Wall Street, Talk Radio, Any Given Sunday, Point Break, The Jack Bull and Office Space; are all marvellous films in their own right and each has showcased this man’s diversity brilliantly. Here he provides able support and gives his very best rabbit in headlights. DeMornay is also perfectly suited to playing edgy faded diva, while Liotta could have phoned in the whole jaded cop act and we’d still buy it. Like Lorraine Bracco, this fellow had me the very moment that Henry Hill strode across the street and gun-butted the local fuckwit for dissing his girl.

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Of all the players it is John Hawkes as jittery hotel clerk Larry who offers the most pleasant surprise. Despite working in the industry for almost twenty years prior to Identity, Hawkes had to be content with one of those actors you recognize but can’t place a name on. I was culpable of such until I watched him as Larry. Then we have Cusack and anybody who knows Keeper should be aware of the esteem I hold this gentleman in. I once heard it stated that he is the guy older women wish to mother, younger women want inside them, and men want to be. I’d say that pretty accurately sums it up for me; he shunned the Brat Pack lifestyle and developed into one of the most charismatic leads of our times by applying the “one for them, then one for me” work ethic. Together with a spirited Peet, the chemistry sparks fly and we remain invested as the story unfurls.

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I haven’t even got to that yet. How rude of Keeper; you’re all still back at the check-in desk. Some murders happen; is that enough for you? That’s all you’re getting with Identity as this is one film you must unravel for yourself. We’re safely in murder mystery confines here and it keeps its intrigue right up to its polarizing conclusion. Some people despise the ending and I get that, but it doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree. It attempts to think outside of the box and I applaud such endeavor, whether or not I felt a little cheated. Big whoop; isn’t murder mystery all about getting your bottom spanked anyways? No major complaints here.

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The one character I haven’t yet celebrated is undoubtedly the real jewel in the crown for Keeper. The motel itself is grungy, ramshackled, and an ideal locale for a dash of mostly harmless midnight murder. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael Jr. captures the gloom well, particularly with the light and shade at his disposal, and the film builds a stellar head of steam as each character’s identity becomes more clouded. As a collective, our protagonists and setting combine to excellent effect and Identity gets it bang on the money far more often than not.

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Follow the subtext and watch closely for clues as you will be rewarded at least in part for such detective work. It doesn’t boast the complexity of vintage Christie but I’d still rather watch Psycho II than Psycho, regardless of which is the “better film”. Movies such as Identity are sadly too few and far between nowadays as the whole whodunnit concept is seen as a little long in the tooth. Mangold’s film may not be high art and perhaps it isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is either, but it is solid, expertly played, atmospheric, and above all else insular, so what else could we possibly need? By the way, I think I have sussed it out. It was Mrs. White in the billiard room with the lead pipe. I caught the bitch red-handed. Whatever you do, don’t eat her macaroons.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Splatter is never the focus and instead intermittent bursts of harsh violence punctuate the quietude. When called for, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero predictably come up with the grisly goods.

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Read 6 Souls Appraisal

Read Psycho II Appraisal

Read No Tell Motel Appraisal

Read High Fidelity Appraisal

 

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One thought on “Identity (2003)

  1. Spot on assessment!
    Although for me it’s a 10/10 for my love of this movie factor alone :).
    This is one of my Gems for sure and you pinned Cusack perfectly, no one could have said it better. Ever since “Say Anything” I adored him.
    When this first came out I watched it daily for about 3 months, couldn’t get enough and to this day I still watch it once a month alongside No One Loves, Evil Dead, Gothica and What Lies Beneath.
    Perfect!!!!

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