Cast, In Order Of Disappearance...
The 'all-star cast' movie has become something of a rarity these days, what with the ballooning salaries our leading actors demand making it financially rather more of a challenge to put one together. Then again, the fragmentation of cinema itself has made the definition of stardom rather broader than once it was - performers like Donny Yen and Bruce Campbell are legendary figures within their own genres, but largely unknown in the mainstream. Even in the old days, though, the really impressive cast-lists were usually restricted to international co-productions normally based on classic novels. Which makes the relatively well-known cast attracted to James Mangold's quirky new thriller Identity all the more impressive.
On a dark and stormy night, a disparate group of people find themselves stranded in a motel in the Nevada desert. Amongst them are a limo driver (John Cusack) and his diva-ish employer (Rebecca de Mornay), a call-girl who has ambitions to become a market-gardener (Amanda Peet), a cop (Ray Liotta) and the convict he's transporting (Jake Busey), and some troubled newlyweds (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott), none of whom are strictly what they appear to be. One of them has been badly injured in a road accident and needs medical attention, but all communication has been cut off with the outside world. And an already grotty situation gets positively foul when it becomes apparent that a murderer is on the loose, and more than willing to hack and slash his way through the cast list...
As seems increasingly common these days, Identity draws from a wide range of sources for its scenario. The script itself obliquely refers to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, which is the most obvious donor, but there are also references to Psycho and other slasher movies, the post-Tarantino school of plot structure, and even (although I admit this is probably just coincidence) the last series of Sapphire and Steel. But it welds these various influences together quite pleasingly, into an indie-ish style of its own. There's a lot of frantic cutting back and forth in place and time between various plotlines at the start, which isn't particularly involving, but with the reassuring appearance of John Cusack the film settles down and rapidly becomes very enjoyable.
Much of this is thanks to a series of impressive turns from the cast, nearly all of whom get their moment to shine. To be fair to them, Cusack and Liotta are largely trading on their stock personae (deadpan laconicism with a dash of sensitivity for Cusack, unstable bullishness for Liotta), but they spark well off each other. Peet is particularly good in a fairly off-beat role, and I would've liked to have seen more of de Mornay's faintly OTT over-the-hill star (hmm, that's possibly a spoiler...). But Mangold's direction is assured and atmospheric, and the script - initially at least - builds cleverly and carefully.
However, Identity is flawed - in that it sometimes seems just a bit too keen to clue the audience in as to exactly what's going on. Mostly this takes the form of a series of apparently unconnected scenes involving a psychologist (Doctor Octopus, or - as I believe he prefers to be known - Alfred Molina) at a legal hearing, but there are lots of other small, revelatory moments that make it clear that something rather peculiar is going on. And most of them come just a bit too early in the film. In the past I've complained about good movies ruined by useless twist endings (Frailty leaps to mind as a particular offender) - Identity is a movie with not one but two actually pretty decent plot twists, the second of which actually half-surprised me (and this from a man who guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense). It's just a shame Mangold and scripter Michael Cooney couldn't have arranged their story so the surprises weren't so obviously foreshadowed. (And I have to say that while I found the main twist to be engagingly innovative and quirky, it may just seem annoyingly silly and implausible to those of a less forgiving bent.)
But anyway. This is a fun and well-made film, loaded with solid performances and with a plot that it's actually moderately tricky to guess the truth about. And any film where somebody says 'You know, that story's so far-fetched it just might be true' immediately gets some goodwill from me. Enjoyable, in a low-key don't-worry-about-the-details way.