Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Identity' is a mystery within a mystery

Identity (2003)
Starring: John Cusack, Ray Liotta and Amanda Peet
Director: James Mangold
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

On a stormy night, a group of unrelated strangers are stranded at a motel... and then they start dying most horribly. As they try to find the murderer among them, it becomes apparent that they aren't the strangers they first thought they were, and that they have been brought here by mysterious forces far stronger than chance.

"Identity" is one of those movies that it's hard to talk about without spoiling the entire thing. It's extremely well-crated in that the characters start to recognize that there's something seriously wrong with the situation they have been thrust into--in addition to the fact that someone is butchering them "Ten Little Indians"-style--as the viewer does. Similarly, the characters become aware of the impossibility and improbility of what is unfolding at the same pace that the viewer does. At every turn, the movie keeps pace with the audience, continuing to share revelations at the right moment, while constantly upping the tension level and making the need to find the answers evermore desirable by the characters and the viewers. This film is quite strange, but it is a well-made kind of strange.

There have been a lot of mystery and suspense thrillers in recent years that have attempted to be oh-so-clever and have relied on twist-endings that were either so far-fetched and unsupported by what has gone before that they feel like cheats or just plain stupid, or were so predictable that the audience figured them out well before the "big revelation." With "Identity," the filmmakers get it just right, and they have actually made a clever film within the trappings of a well-used mystery movie set-up. What's more, the sets are great, the camerawork extremely well-done, and the acting is top-notch from all players.

If you have patience, a love of mystery and suspense films, and tolerance for the slightly bizarre, I think you'll enjoy the claustrophobic, meanacing sense that permeates "Identity." And I think you'll get a kick out of a "big revelation" that actually works.