Hebrew, Czech, Greek, Polish, Russian, Arabic, English - Hearing Impaired, Italian - Hearing Impaired, Turkish, Icelandic, Croatian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hindi, Romanian, Bulgarian, Slovenian
Additional footage - Branching
4 Theatrical trailer
2 Audio commentary - director, writer
Dolby Digital trailer - Aurora
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 87 mins .
MA15+ . PAL
It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a red herring rang out…
"Does anyone know the way to the Scrubs set?"
Only a few short weeks ago, we were espousing the virtues of the intelligent genre-savvy splatter film in the form of Final Destination 2 - a movie that could easily have ended up being a dumbed-down teen-pleaser were it not for the knowing sense of humour and straight-out fun of both the screenplay and the production itself. And now here’s another movie that takes a similar approach - albeit more subtly than its lower-budget brethren.
Making a near-record dash to home video from its run in cinema earlier in 2003, Identity is a curious creature - an outing that, on the surface at least, looks to be playing out like a body-count splatter flick. But this one’s got a sting in its tail. Director James Mangold (best known for Cop Land and the terrific Girl, Interrupted) and writer Michael Cooney (a man who can boast a film titled Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman on his CV!) have a few surprises in store for viewers who think they know how it’s all going to play out. The clues are there, but few will catch them all (though the experienced horror/thriller buff will be ahead of the game for a good amount of the time).
"Alas, poor Yorick! Oh, hang on, wrong script... Alas, poor Nokia..."
Convicted serial murderer Malcolm Rivers is less than 24 hours away from being executed by lethal injection. But even at this late hour, his lawyers and psychiatrists are trying to save his life. They meet on a dank, rainy night and wait impatiently for the prisoner to arrive - but the transfer from prison is very late, and nobody knows where they’ve gotten to. Meanwhile, out on a lonely highway in the midst of the kind of storm only seen in the movies and Melbourne, a man rushes into the front office of a motel carrying a woman’s limp, bloody body. “There’s been an accident,” he says plaintively, and we’re progressively taken back in time through the domino-effect chain of events that brings a group of people together at this same motel. Along with the man with the body - George (John C McGinley, a movie veteran seen recently on TV as a marvellously sarcastic doctor in Scrubs) and his wife Alice - there’s their son Tommy, former movie star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay) and her put-upon driver Ed (John Cusack), reformed hooker Paris (Amanda Peet), stressed-out couple Ginny and Lou and judgemental motel owner Larry. Oh, and there’s also police officer Rhodes (Ray Liotta) and the sneering, leering, psychotic prisoner (Jake Busey) who he’s late in escorting somewhere. All 11 are unwilling guests - the road in each direction is impassable because of the storm, so they must all stay in the one small motel. Uh-oh. Not surprisingly, people start dying in quick succession, and the survivors (as well as the audience) desperately try to figure out who it is who’s bumping off such a stellar cast and leaving numbered room keys next to the bodies in a decidedly menacing version of a countdown.
While it’s hardly an original premise for a horror-thriller, that’s not the point. A movie that’s all too aware of its own lineage, Identity revels in making the whole thing one giant puzzle for the audience, throwing so many red herrings around it makes a day at the aquarium seem like a walk in outer space by comparison. Heavily stylised and borrowing from all over the history of the genre, both the screenplay and Mangold’s direction throw regular knowing winks at the audience before throwing everything out the window and rewriting the rules; the big moment, when it comes, is one few will have guessed, though the denouement is a tad more foreseeable. There’s very little that’s truly original here, and the filmmakers know it. And they don’t care - this is high-concept fun with a deadpan-serious tone, a terrifically creepy and atmospheric look and feel, and a brilliant cast who seem to be having an enormously good time - even if they do have to spend half the movie getting rained on. Cusack is undeniably the star of the show - he owns every movie he’s in, after all - but everyone’s great, from Amanda Peet’s doe-eyed hooker-who-wants-a-normal-life to De Mornay’s knowing parody of the once-famous movie star.
Don’t let the fact that this one comes from the man who did Girl, Interrupted fool you into taking Identity too seriously. It’s a very clever deconstruction of a genre, sure, but it also subscribes to that genre with relish for a good portion of its running time before throwing a spanner in the works. Immensely stylish in its execution (sorry), Identity is the movie equivalent of what this reviewer’s high school English teacher used to call “a rattling good read.” Be sure to watch it in the dark.
"...and when I wiggle my fingers like this, you can only see it in the widescreen version..."
Filmed using anamorphic lenses in genuine, full-scale Panavision and frequently using every inch of the frame, Identity needs to be viewed in its full widescreen glory to be properly appreciated. Beautifully photographed by Phedon Papamichael - who also shot the recently-reviewed Moonlight Mile - the movie is loaded with stunning, often deliberately referential imagery, with the constant rain a strong presence in the story. Most of the action takes place in darkness or semi-darkness, but there’s nothing murky about the picture here. The transfer is picture-perfect from beginning to end, always loaded with all-important shadow detail, deft use of colour and contrast, and pin-sharp detail without ever resorting to excessive edge enhancement. It’s undeniably state-of-the-art.
Sony’s DVD Center has done a typically marvellous job transferring the film to DVD, and like most of their work there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. We expect perfection from them, and that’s what we get here.
The only serious flaw comes from the use of seamless branching to offer a moderately extended version of the film (it adds an expositional scene at the end of chapter 5, and slightly tweaks the ending; this is the version you should watch first). What’s got us puzzled is exactly how the branching is causing the problem we’ve found here. In the extended version, there’s a noticeable pause - like that of a layer change - just before the 68-minute mark. But the scenes that are branched in come long before and long after this pause (the branching to them is indeed seamless, by the way, though if you’re listening to one of the commentaries you may suddenly find yourself put on hold mid-word while the addition plays out!) There’s a second pause in the extended version, but that’s nothing to be worried about - it’s the actual layer change, and a corresponding pause can be found in the theatrical version at the same point in the movie.
Columbia Tristar tell us that this unexplained pause will be fixed in the disc that eventually goes on sale - at this stage, though, we only have the test sample to go by. We’ll endeavour to obtain a retail copy after release and update this review to let you know if the problem’s been eliminated.
Because the layer change occurs at different time points depending on which version of the film you’re watching, we haven’t listed it in the specs as we normally do. But for those interested, the switch happens at 1.07.50 on the extended version of the film, and at 1.08.19 in the theatrical cut.
Amanda Peet finally reaches THAT note in Nessun Dorma.
If you’ve got a Dolby Digital 5.1 system, you’re in for a treat here - this is a truly immersive sound mix from start to finish that really makes use of the full surround soundstage. The constant presence of rain on the soundtrack is, just like the visuals, an unseen character in the film, and the 5.1 format allows the mixers to place it prominently in the surround speakers for much of the movie, really drawing you in to the movie’s eerie world. Dialogue is anchored to the centre as you’d expect, as it nice and clear (though some actors do have a tendency to mumble occasionally) and the various effects as well as the music score are nicely spread across the front speakers.
Some reviews of the region 1 version of this disc have noted that during the extended version of the film, the scenes added in via branching see the soundtrack revert to Dolby Surround 2.0 - that’s definitely not the case here, and the audio remains in full 5.1 from start to finish regardless of which version you’re watching.
"Ginny, if our relationship wasn't in Panavision I'd feel a lot closer to you right now."
Including all the extras from the US version of the disc, Columbia Tristar raises the bar slightly with this PAL version. Taking advantage of the added authoring space available (the NTSC disc packed both widescreen and pan-and-scan versions onto a dual-layered disc; here, only a widescreen version is offered) the opportunity has been taken to add a second commentary track that US customers miss out on!
Extended Version: Covered above in the video section, this is a very slightly longer version of the film, done through the use of seamless branching. Though the additions are minor, they are worthwhile and this is most definitely the version of choice (the theatrical cut, though, is the default choice). You get the option to pick one when you play the movie, but after that you’ll have to stop and restart the disc to change to the other version.
Audio Commentaries: Yep, not just one, but two full-length commentaries are supplied here, making anyone who imported the region 1 release regret their decision instantly. First up is a terrifically informative and listenable effort from director James Mangold, who fills viewers in on the filming process and much more, in a winningly friendly, accessible style. The additional commentary is from writer Michael Cooney, a Brit with a jovial, mannered speaking voice. He kicks off with a joke (kind of), some flattery for those who’ve bothered to listen to him, and a warning NOT to listen to his commentary until you’ve seen the film. It’s good advice: this one is spoiler central. Another great commentary, offering lots of background about the creative process that took the film from idea to screenplay to finished film.
Starz - On the Set: A 14 and a half minute featurette very much in the EPK style, but with some good behind the scenes footage and interviews (Cusack and Peet fans will be well pleased). Do not watch this before you’ve seen the movie. Full frame with cropped, letterboxed footage from the film.
Deleted Scenes: Four scenes excised from the film, presented at 2.40:1 (16:9 enhanced) and in perfect condition, with stereo sound. A neat device is used here - the scenes are put in context via the use of scenes that made it to the final film, but the sections from the finished product are in black and white, switching to colour for the deleted material. An audio commentary track from James Mangold is also supplied for each. Total running time is brief - a shade over five minutes - and there’s nothing revelatory here, but such inclusions are always welcome and they’ve been particularly nicely handled here.
Storyboard Comparisons: While these aren’t a particular favourite of this reviewer, the three running comparisons between finished film and storyboards here (running just under five minutes total) should please those who love the conceptual and practical art that precedes a movie production. Presented in 16:9.
Trailers: Four trailers - one for Identity (beware major plot spoilers!), along with Thir13en Ghosts, Darkness Falls and Hollow Man. All have 5.1 audio, commendably - and all are also 16:9 widescreen.
Filmographies: Token “selected” filmographies for director, writer and three of the stars. Don’t waste your time, use the IMDB instead for the full picture.
Dolby Digital Aurora Trailer: Hello to whoever it is at Sony who’s been reading our years of whinging about the accursed Rain trailer, and thanks for continuing to use different ones. Now, Dolby, if you’re reading, please make some new ones. Ta.
A well-made genre picture with a real sense of style and some nifty and unexpected twists and turns, Identity is great fun, though die-hard horror purists may well disapprove. High art it certainly isn’t, but that’s not what you’re here for, is it?