Prayer Focus
Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language.

Reviewed by: Megan Basham

Very Offensive
Add to your list?
View your list
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
1 hr. 27 min.
Year of Release:
John Cusack and Amanda Peet in “Identity,” courtesy of Columbia Pictures 'Identity', courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Starring: John Cusack, Jake Busey, Rebecca De Mornay, Clea DuVall, Ray Liotta | Directed by: James Mangold | Produced by: Cathy Konrad | Written by: Michael Cooney, James Mangold | Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Were B-rate horror movies of the seventies and eighties bad because the jiggly, hyperactive acting was bad, because the formulaic writing was bad, or because the cheesy slasher gore was ridiculously bad? What if you took the same basic idea, gave it to a better team of writers and a far better cast of actors, what would you have then? These are the questions answered by this weekend’s top-grossing film Identity, and as turns out, having first-rate talent actually does make quite a difference.

On a dark and stormy night (its always dark and stormy, isn’t it), an array of characters as contrived as Professor Plum in the drawing room and Mrs. White in the library inadvertently collide at a ramshackle motel isolated enough to give Norman Bates the creeps. Our cast of doomed misfits includes a gallant limo driver (John Cusack), a washed-up actress (Rebecca De Mornay), an obsessive-compulsive family man, a grubby Gen-X couple, a police officer (Ray Liotta) transporting a maximum security prisoner (Jake Busey), and a Las Vegas prostitute (Amanda Peet). Oh, and, of course, there’s the sinister motel manager who starts the trouble by giving everyone large plastic room keys numbered one through ten, signaling the beginning of a countdown of murders.

Fans of Agatha Christie and Hitchcock will appreciate the stylish way “Identity”’s plot unfolds—each of our characters hides a secret that could make him or her the killer, and half the fun of the film is trying to figure out whose secret is most incriminating—and some of them are quite the doozies. However, while the characters are based on familiar horror-fare, the performances, especially those of Cusack and Peet, have great dimension, giving us a chance to really care about what’s happening in the deserted little town.

Even the set design and artistic direction play major roles as director James Mangold uses scary movie clichs like the Bates motel to make us feel like we’ve been there before, right before he sideswipes us with turns we never saw coming. By combining the look and personality of two genres, the psychological horror and the detective mystery, he comes out with an entirely new film species that is interesting, even though it doesn’t completely work.

'Identity', courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Without giving away the film’s Machiavellian twist, it is fair to say that the movie we start out with is certainly not the one we end up with—but that’s not to say the surprise ending is necessarily a good surprise. The best plot twists, like those in the brilliant whodunits “The Sixth Sense” and “The Usual Suspects”, cause the audience to reevaluate everything they thought they knew about the story up to that point. With Identity, the story we are originally immersed in becomes irrelevant, making us (or at least me) just the slightest bit irritated that we expended so much emotional effort getting involved in it in the first place.

Surprisingly, considering this is Hollywood and one of the characters is a prostitute, when it comes to sex scenes, “Identity” takes the high road. Not only does it refrain from objectifying Peet’s character, it actually affords her a certain amount of optimistic respect. Too bad the same can’t be said for the gore and offensive language. What the film lacks in sleaze it makes up for in carnage—nothing so delicately chilling as Hitchcock’s swirling drain here. Still, if you happen to be fan of this particular genre, “Identity” is a sophisticated alternative to traditional slasher schlock, so its a shame that, like all the others, it’s also marred by a lot of worldly muck.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—As I sat in my seat and began to watch “Identity”, two contrasting arguments rose in my mind. One, this movie seemed like it was going to be predictable, excessive, and a waste of time. The other was: John Cusack is a writer, and a pretty good one, and he wouldn’t sign on to a movie as formulaic as this. And then everything started to change. It was fantastic. There is violence and profanity, but the themes (in this genre, themes are few and far between) are pretty positive, namely tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance.

In conclusion, it was a great thriller that stuck to the formula and still delivered a fresh surprise, and another great John Cusack movie. I wouldn’t buy it, but I’ll probably see it again.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—CJ Keddy, age 21
Neutral—Out of all the recent last-minute-twist movies (“The Sixth Sense”, “Signs”, “The Ring”) “Identity” stands out in originality and acting. It’s too bad that it is all drown out by bad language, including an uncomfortable about of g**d**ns, and a barrage of violence. If you want to brave those two negative points, this movie does deliver.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—David Meter, age 17
Positive—This is one of the most fun movies I have seen so far this year. It is not, by any means, a standard thriller, because it does its work by creating interesting characters for all of its actors, even the ones who don’t live very long. John Cusack hits a sort of a brilliant note in the way he plays Ed, a limo driver/ex cop. And the other actors are equally good. Obviously there is some violence in the film—it is, after all, a thriller, and yes, people do die. That being said, I didn’t think the violence was overly graphic or gratuitous at all.

My only complaint is that at 87 minutes, “Identity” could have used about ten or fifteen more minutes. The climax of the film needed to be drawn out. I didn’t dislike it, but it would have been more satisfactory had it been extended a bit. This is a very entertaining, very good movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Jason Eaken, age 19
Negative—“Identity” is exactly what the trailer portrays, a psycho-thriller. While I enjoy movies with “keep you guessing” suspense, I didn’t like the gratuitous blood or graphic scenes. It all comes down to an average movie with heavy flaws made better by a twist ending. While my review sounds negative, I actually enjoyed this movie for suspense and surprise value. Besides, having my wife cling to my arm in a dark theater still gives me a thrill !
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Stephen Hample, age 39
Positive—“Identity” is a smart flick, but I would not necessarily classify it as a horror or even a thriller. Some classic elements of horrors/thrillers exist allowing the tag, but by all intents it is an intelligent who-dunnit. The language is offensive and possibly gratuitous, although the character quality, direction and atmosphere almost make the language a reasonable “real-life” portrayal. Brutality, violence and gore are less severe than advertised though there are graphic automobile accidents and one decapitation (shown after the fact, not depicted).

I am reluctant to give away anything about the story as the screenplay is extremely tight and those wishing to see this movie deserve the opportunity to enter as I did—with no real idea or expectation of what is going to happen. DO NOT take the kids, and DO NOT listen to spoilers, but plan to take someone with whom you would love to discuss a well-crafted story afterwards. If you wait for video, you’ll have heard too much about it to really enjoy it.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Troy, age 36
Positive—I really liked this movie. It did have language that was not appropriate; however, the story was great. It was intense and kept me guessing. The ending can’t easily be predicted. If you like a good thrill, this is the movie for you, but its not for those under 18.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Dawn W., age 18
Negative—Why can’t we go see a smart adult film without an explosion of filthy language? The idea and the plot behind this film are good, but it’s unbearable to hear f*** etc. every minute—it completely ruined the film. The ending is a shocker, but all the gore and cursing make you feel like running out the theater. Go watch and old black and white mystery intstead.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
—Julie, age 28
Negative—I thought this was an excellent movie in regards to acting and the plot. The language was horrible and I definitely would not let anyone under 16 or 17 see this because of the brutal violence and obscenities. I can’t understand how someone can create such a great plot and spoil it with the senseless language. Wait until it comes on TV where the language will be censored. —Joseph, age 20
Positive—“Identity”’s got a cool message—It is not just a basic thriller with a little twist at the end… you’ll be in for a ride and a message. I enjoyed the fact that the alter egos were struggling to survive the nightmare they found themselves in and the fact that what we were watching for an hour plus was not what it seemed, but really an out of control battle going on in a psycho killer’s head for his mind.

John Cussak was great in delivering the ah—ah on this for a classic transition in the story line. But what really hit me was the exaggerated message the movie makes about what should happen to all lawyers getting the guilty off for multiple personality disorders or some other form of temporary or permanent insanity. I am not for the death penalty, but I did like the clever way the movie makes its point.

You go away challenged about why insanity is a real legal excuse for killers. In fact, I was confronted to recognize that when you peal away your own less complicated coping techniques for dealing with unmet childhood needs, you are not left with an innocent child, guilt free from all the sin and shame, but rather you end up with a rebellious child ready and willing to freely let the sin nature go wild to the point of being capable of murder, potentially multiple murders. The movie does well to reveal humanity’s condition on par with what we Christians read in the Bible. For that, I have to give this film writer and director a way thumbs up.

Even in our Christian sub-culture we are always so fooled into presuming we are “good” or “innocent” at the root of our nature. Identity reminded me of good stuff to dwell on like Romans 3; I went away from the theater encouraged to remain in the fear of the Lord and submit to the only good thing that lives in me… the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Kevin Ford, age 33