With an all-star cast that includes John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and Amanda Peet, and an eerie and twisting plot, 2003's Identity is a decent suspense film that tries really hard but ultimately doesn't achieve all that it sets out to do. It's still a film that's worth watching, and the Sony Blu-ray disc makes that a pleasurable experience. With an excellent picture and wonderful sound, this is a disc worth picking up.
Ed (John Cusack) is a ex-cop who eaks out a living as a limo driver in LA. While driving a spoiled aging star (Rebecca DeMornay) back from a shoot ion a torrential rain storm, he accidentally hits a woman (Leila Kenzle). With everyone's cell phone on the blink due to the weather, he takes the woman and her family to a nearby motel. It turns out that the hotel is the only shelter available. The roads have been washed out in all directions, and as the storm gets worse more people take rooms. There's an ex-prostitute (Amanda Peet), a newlywed couple on their way back from Las Vegas, (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott), and a corrections officer, Rhodes, who is transporting a convicted killer to a new prison (Ray Liotta and Jake Busey.) Together with the creepy motel manager, (John Hawkes) the ten temporary residents of the motel just want the weather to break so they can get on with their lives.
Things take a turn for the worse when Ed discovers the movie star's head in a clothes dryer and it's discovered that the killer Rhodes was escorting has managed to escape. As the motel residents start dying one by one, it seems that everyone has something to hide, and no one is quite who they seem to be. As the bodies start to stack up, each one with a room key in their possession counting down from 10 which victim they are, the survivors start getting ever more paranoid and panicked. Then they discover that the bodies them selves have started to disappear.
This is a movie that aims really high and almost makes it. The film has an eerie atmosphere that really works well, and the whole production has a Twilight Zone feel to it. A large part of that is because things don't quite make sense. When the killer escapes, he runs out into the desert only to find himself back at the Motel again. There are several clues like that, sprinkled through the film, that give small hints as to what's going on. The problem is that the big twist in the film doesn't come at the end, but 2/3 through the movie. After that the movie loses a lot of its impact. Sure, viewers see things differently from that point on, but who the killer is and how the people will escape is no longer an urgent matter. The surprise feels cheap too, like that season of the TV show Dallas where the entire year's worth of shows turned out to be a dream. To add insult to injury, immediately after the twist we're treated to a long explanation of what has just happened, and then they reiterate it once again near the end of the movie. Anyone who has more than one firing neuron will understand the first time through, (my wife actually figured it out early) and having it explained several times really slows the momentum.
Even with these this problem with the script and the way the story unfolds, I found myself enjoying the film. Director James Mangold creates a claustrophobic and tense environment and does a very credible job. Though I felt a little cheated by the twist, the moments leading up to that revelation were exciting and fun.
To put it succinctly, the 2.40:1 image looks fantastic with little room for criticism. The vast majority of this movie takes place on a rainy night and the Blu-ray disc reproduces that low light scenes very well. There is plenty of detail in the shadows and dark rooms and the blacks were solid. The transfer looked just as good in scenes well lit scenes also. The colors were a little soft, as the director undoubtedly intended, but even and the white levels were great. With excellent definition throughout and no digital defects this is a great looking disc.
As strong as the video was, the audio was even more impressive. This disc offers a choice of uncompressed PCM tracks in English and German as well as DD 5.1 tracks in English, German, and French. There is also a descriptive audio track in English for the visually impaired. There are also subtitles in, count 'em, 22 languages! If you need a specific language, it's probably there.
This movie uses the full soundstage throughout the movie. The audio is very enveloping, with the rain and thunder surrounding the viewer totally. This adds to the claustrophobic feel of the movie quite well. There is a lot of directionality too, with shouts and thunderclaps seeming to come from different areas of the room. I love this type of audio, where the viewer is put slap-dab in the middle of the action. Added to that the fact that the audio is clean and clear with not track of distortion, dropouts, or other common audio defects and you have a fantastic sounding disc.
With 50 GB discs now readily available, BDs are finally getting a full compliment of extras. This disc includes a commentary track by director James Mangold, and a second commentary (that is available only on the Blu-ray release as far as I've been able to tell) by writer Michael Cooney. I enjoyed the second one a bit more, but both were informative. The four deleted scenes (presented in HD) were pretty good and could have been left in the film. They all have optional comments from Mangold too. Three scenes get the storyboard-to-completed-scene treatment and it's always fun to see how the concept translates to the finished product. The only bonus item that I could have lived without is the 15-minute "making of' featurette. This is a total fluff piece and doesn't offer anything worthwhile. On top of that it is only in 480i.
Identity almost works, but doesn't quite. More of a suspense
picture than a horror film (all of the violence takes place off camera)
director James Mangold crafts an eerie film that effectively communicates
to the audience the trapped feeling that the characters have. Unfortunately
the twist in the story only works to a certain extent and many viewers
will feel cheated when they discover what's really going on. Even
though the movie is flawed, the good sections make it worth watching.
A light recommendation.