I’ll admit it, I’m on a ‘John Cusack kick’. After watching ‘1408’, my movie buddy suggested that we watch ‘Identity’ next and to be honest, his pitch wasn’t the best. He sold the film to me by saying that the last time he watched it, he was really confused and slept through most of it. However, the meta score on this film is 64 which puts it in the green. That alone is surprising given the first half of the film which screams more of a low budget horror film with D-list actors. But there’s a stellar cast (mostly) behind this.
Even the synopsis is questionable.
During a bad rainstorm, ten strangers through various reasons end up in a motel in the backend of Nevada and throughout the night, they are all killed off one by one. In the meantime, a prisoner is waiting to be executed for committing several brutal murders. He’s wheeled in front of a committee to convince them that he was not responsible but rather one of his eleven personalities. Those numbers have probably given away the ending.
So, who’s in this film? John Cusack, we know, but who else? Ray Liotta. That’s who. You know, Ray Liotta. He was in ‘Goodfellas’ and then nothing else that anyone can remember. Still, a big name. I also recognise John C. McGinley otherwise known as Dr Cox from ‘Scrubs’. I also recognise Clea Duvall who was the gothy girl from ‘The Faculty’. And Jake Busey from anything low budget. And Pruitt Taylor Vince from ‘Constantine’ as Malcolm the Murderer.
Before we begin, has anyone noticed that John Cusack almost always wears the same ¾ length black coat when he’s not wearing the white shirt and black tie which he wears in this film regardless. Actually, his costume is eerily similar to what he wears in ‘2012’. Amanda Peet is also in ‘2012’. She plays a prostitute in ‘Identity’, but she also plays Cusack’s character’s ex-wife in ‘2012’. Cusack’s character in ‘Identity’, Ed Dakota, has a job where he drives insufferable people around just like his character in ‘2012’.
Back to the point.
Although not a direct adaptation, the film is loosely based on the format of the Agatha Christie story, ‘And Then There Were None’. You know the format. A load of people in an isolated location where they’re all getting killed off one by one and it’s painfully obvious that one of them is the killer. In all fairness, the film has some twists and turns and subverts a lot of expectations along the way and by the end, I can see why this film is so highly rated. Having said that, the first half of the film plays out like one of those ‘video on demand’/’straight to DVD’ films that star mostly 30-year olds playing teenagers.
I have to say, I like John C. McGinley as an actor, he was great as Dr Cox but I’ve always said that not every actor can play every kind of role and I’m not convinced that he can play the ‘concerned husband’. The context for this is that McGinley’s character, George York, is out on a car trip in the rain with his wife, Alice (Leila Kenzie) and stepson, Timmy (Bret Loehr). Alice wanders into the middle of the road and is struck by Ed who is driving this spoilt actress, Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay). Alice suffers a harsh wound to her neck (somehow) and in a panic, George takes her to the nearest place which is a motel. The manager, Larry Washington (John Hawkes) puts them up but can’t call an ambulance because the phones are out.
Ed tries to drive to the hospital to bring back help but runs into Paris who tells him that the road is impassable due to the rain. Ed’s car becomes stuck at the impasse which is where the two run into newlyweds, Lou Isiana (William Lee Scott) and Ginny (Clea DuVall) and the two give Ed and Paris a lift back to the motel where the they check in also.
How many are we up to now?… Ed, Caroline, George, Alice, Timmy, Paris, Ginny, Lou and Larry. Nine. Oh, yeh. ‘Correctional Officer’ Samuel Rhodes (Ray Liotta) brings his ‘prisoner’, Robert Maine (Jake Busey) to stay at the motel until the storm passes. That’s eleven.
Of course, things go wrong, and people start dying. Caroline is the first to go because it’s typical (but not universal) for the most insufferable person to be the first to go. The main rule of slasher films; awful people die, nice people survive… if they’re a woman. Caroline’s head is found in a washing machine by Ed and his reaction is funny because it’s basically non-existent. He just looks at the severed head and I laughed out loud because I thought it was another case of ‘John Cusack playing John Cusack’ but it had not yet been revealed that Ed used to be a police officer in LA and is used to being around death.
As more and more people start dying around him, Ed becomes a part of the investigation with Rhodes and it’s shown really early on that Rhodes isn’t a real police officer. As he’s putting on his jacket, we see that the back of the shirt he’s wearing has a bloody hole in it, showing that he’s clearly killed the real police officer and has taken his clothes which is a nice reveal and sets an expectation. Up to that point, it’s assumed that Maine is the killer since he’s escaped from the toilet he was chained to but then when he’s recaptured, he’s found with a baseball bat shoved down his throat.
You’ve probably figured it out by now but all the people in the motel are not real but rather all eleven of Malcolm’s personalities. In probably the best scene in the whole movie, Ed ‘wakes up’ to find himself strapped to a wheelchair in front of the committee and he’s told by Malcolm’s doctor, Dr Malick (Alfred Molina) that he is one of the eleven personalities created by Malcolm to deal with the abuse that he suffered as a child. One of the personalities is the one that committed the murders and if Ed can kill that personality, then Malcolm will not be executed.
By now, only Ed, Paris and Rhodes are left and Ed seems convinced that Rhodes is the killer personality. They both shoot each other and die, leaving Paris as the only survivor. Malcolm’s execution is stayed and whilst he’s being transferred, it is revealed that Rhodes was not the killer personality but rather little Timmy who was stealthily going around killing everyone. Timmy catches up with Paris and kills her leaving which now means that Timmy is the dominant personality. In the real world, Malcolm throttles his doctor and the van transporting him crashes.
All in all, the second half is much better. 11 protagonists in one space is a lot to balance and characterise so there is a lot of ‘character architypes’ happening. Only the really important characters who will be alive in the final act get any decent screen time.
I have something to say about Malcolm as a character. Dr Malick is convinced that Malcolm has all of these personalities and one of them was responsible for the murders that Malcolm has been convicted for. If this were reality, Malcolm would never have been placed on Death Row. He would have had this evaluation before his trial and been found ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’. I can’t remember if there is a line of dialogue explaining this but all it would have taken is Dr Malick’s testimony at the trial and that would have been the end of it. Malcolm would have been taken to a psychiatric hospital for proper treatment.
‘Identity’ had a budget of $28 Million and made $90.2 Million at the box office making it a financial success. The film also holds a positive rating with audiences enjoying the twists and turns. I can understand why. It feels like ‘The Faculty’ in that there are some big stars in what looks like a B-movie plot. And I liked ‘The Faculty’. I also like ‘Identity’.
Sorry, I can’t think because IT’S MY BIRTHDAY TOMORROW!… See you next week.
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