Director James Mangold is now very much a household name after making the Johnny Cash bio-pic Walk The Line, a killer western adaptation with 3:10To Yuma and two Wolverine films which include the absolutely incredible Logan. Back in 2003, he was a director with a couple of great films under his belt like Cop Land and Girl Interrupted but he was about to give us a “keep you guessing” mystery thriller that still holds up to this day, the ensemble cast film Identity from the writer and director of Jack Frost. No, not that feel good family film with Michael Keaton, I’m talking about a murderous snowman who killed people with icicles. Yes, I’ve seen it.
Identity features a wide mosaic of characters trapped at a motel in the middle of nowhere. We have John Cusack as Ed, a limo driver not unlike his character with the same job in the disastrous disaster flick 2012. As the head of our cast, he finds himself in the company of a correctional officer (Ray Liotta) and his prisoner (Jake Busey), a prostitute (Amanda Peet), a couple of newlyweds(one of them being Clea Duvall), an older couple (including John C. McGinley) and their young son and Ed’s client, an ’80s Hollywood TV actress (Rebecca DeMornay), as well as the motel desk clerk (John Hawkes) who all spend a paranoid night together as one of them start knocking the rest off. Pretty stacked, right? This is also before Hawkes hit his mainstream stride in Deadwood.
The film has a creepy ethereal atmosphere that starts to ramp up more and more towards our third act twist and we have a running B plot with a cop played by Alfred Molina interrogating an incarcerated Pruitt Taylor Vince (from Mangold’s debut Heavy) that keeps us a bit off the true path. I love this film when I finally got to see it on DVD and I still love the plotting and reveals as they happen. The movie is like the love child of Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie through a David Lynch filter, making the fact that long time Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti almost scored this one that much more intriguing.
If you look this one up on any review sites like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see that critics have pretty much put it in the middle of the road which, to me, makes it incredibly underrated. What I see is a genre film headed by a burgeoning master leading a group of eclectic character actors under the eye of cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who would collaborate with Mangold on two of his most beautiful films. This is what I consider must see filmmaking and I am happy to celebrate it on its fifteenth birthday. Go give it a spin!