Identity (2003)


“That’s not possible! I saw what happened! We all saw what happened!”

The Scoop: 2003 R, directed by James Mangold and starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, and Jake Busey

Tagline: Identity is a secret. Identity is a mystery. Identity is a killer.

Summary Capsule: One party-swinging motel hosts The Annual Butler Did It Convention

Justin’s rating: Merge… into oncoming wackiness

Justin’s review: It was a dark and stormy night. John Cusack awoke from a feverish dream involving a strange lady called Clare and a dozen low-fat Twinkies. He sat up in bed, watching the rain streak down the window like silvery snakes, gliding toward a meal of water mice. Suddenly, a knock on the door! He paused, his heart pounding in excitement and also because of the years of hard living. Could it be? It was! The door burst open and a knight in shining armor rode into the room on top of a glorious stallion!

“Johnny,” the knight boomed. “I’m your career. It’s time to leap back on and ride once more!”

Yes, it’s true. The immensely likable male lead is back and he’s taking no guff; in fact, he’s handcuffing guff to the wall and beating it mercilessly, making it cry like a little schoolgirl who has to do her homework because the maid is sick for the day. What I’ve always liked about Cusack is that he never comes across as an actor, rather, he’s like one of us doing a daily commute to MovieLand. As a dude named Ed, Cusack brings a capable intensity to the role of a limo driver/ex-cop, and even though this is a murder mystery of sorts, we always feel safer when Cusack’s on the screen. Wow. I gotta stop before he starts dreaming of me instead!

Identity is a murder mystery in a similar vein to The Usual Suspects and Wild Things, but not quite. What you do know in advance is that this movie is setting you up to mess with your head, and it’s a combination of agony and anticipation for the twists you know that are coming. “Oh! Oh! When do we get to the FIREWORKS FACTORY?” I like these kinds of films, because they reward the watcher for paying attention, playing a junior detective game with the on-screen action. It’s a contest between my brain and the filmmakers: if I can figure out the twists and the mystery before it happens, I win; if they stump me and surprise me in a somewhat-logical fashion, they win, but I go home happy. We, as an audience, delight in being tricked fairly. It’s what makes psyche-out flicks like Identity so popular.

It is a dark and stormy night in Identity. Ten strangers find themselves trapped in an isolated Nevada motel during a torrential downpour. The film makes it quickly apparent that there’s a nasty series of cause-and-effects going on, tying these people together before they even meet. As the night wears on, the strange gets stranger. Murders most foul wrack up the body count, inexplicable events occur, and only a former cartoonist-kickboxer-hit man-record store owner can make sense of the muddle. Or can he?

The stormy atmosphere is almost an eleventh character in the film, and it works wonders to give the Bates Motel added menace and isolation. The rain. The thunder and lightning. The wind and lights flickering on and off. And no HBO!

Alas, I am sworn to secrecy on the plot details by the movie watcher’s code of ethics. All you want to know, anyway, is if its worth your time. Yes, it is, and I suspect it plays well to people across all demographics. Plus, John Cusack is given a quirky role due his stature, and there are even a few other oddball performances (such as John C. “Dr. Cox” McGinley, being as anti-sarcastic and pro-heartfelt agony as you can imagine).

Just, for the love of Pete, people, stop splitting up when you suspect a murderer is on the loose! If you really want to frustrate the audience, why don’t you just lie down in front of a riding lawnmower and paint a bullseye on your tummy? Sheesh. Idiots.

Kyle’s rating: If you don’t mind, I’d like to get more elitist than ever for a moment . . .

Kyle’s review: I’m not sure what dampened my complete enjoyment of seeing Identity more: my total recall of the television preview (which gave me everything I needed to solve the film’s mysteries before I bought my ticket) or my staggering horror film knowledge accrued over 24 years of watching any scary garbage that gets thrown at me. The highlights of Identity were definitely the cast (let’s face it, folks: John Cusack rules!) and the opportunity to make water jokes (don’t even try to watch this movie with a semi-full bladder!), and it was cool to see it as part of my friend’s birthday celebration (she likes scary stuff, too!). But I have to say, I doubt Identity is worth seeing more than once. When I see it again, maybe I’ll change my mind. Probably not, though.

I don’t mean to get all crazy and elitist and vague on you, honest. Like Justin said, this story of 10 strangers who converge on an isolated hotel on a dark and very rainy night moves along well and actions seem to grow organically out of the plot. But if I give you any hints at stuff, even character motivations or things to look for, it might clue you in more than intended and this whole house of cards will fall down. But it’s nothing a nice, confusing puzzle metaphor won’t fix, yeah?

Actually, Identity could be really fun for you if you have no expectations, you haven’t see a ton of horror movies, and you can’t remember the movie preview. See, thanks to endless viewings of everything from Halloweens to Friday the 13ths to those crazy cheap horror flicks they show on the local channels on the weekends, I have almost supernatural instincts and reflexes that put me in perfect tune with horror plot twists and “I never saw that coming!” revelations. Hopefully, you’re not like me, because I can’t walk around at night without seeing slashers behind every bush and brain-sucking mutant leeches coming from all directions.

It takes a very rare, very creative energy to really surprise and scare me anymore. I don’t find it often, and I didn’t find it with Identity. Maybe you will. It is a well-done film, and I suppose the twist(s) could be surprising to . . . horror amateurs (pardon my condescension, please). I can’t guarantee complete entertainment, but it is worth a viewing, since you don’t often see Cusack doing the slasher stuff. So whether you think horror movies are incredibly cool (me) or you think John Cusack is really cool (me) or you want John Cusack to be your boyfriend (um, no comment), I guess Identity is worth a late night viewing. Go for it, and if you’re in a group, have a couple rain jokes ready, so that if someone figures out the big secret ahead of time and they have a full bladder, you can torture them to your heart’s content!


Bobby’s rating: John Cusack: Now with sewing action!

Bobby’s review: Since the breakup with my boyfriend (cue sad audience sympathetic sounds), I have been forced to attend movies flying solo. So I load up my purse with gummy bears (the mini ones, not the Care Bear ones) and cruise on down to the theatre to catch Identity with the confidence that no one will steal the green ones. I sit, not only alone in my row, but in the whole theatre. Within the first 5 minutes of the movie I had convinced myself that while I was engrossed in the movie someone could sneak up behind me and slit my throat. Eventually, I had to move to the last row of the theatre so I could give it my whole attention. And it deserved ALL my attention.

I have been having trouble talking about this movie to people, because if you haven’t seen it, it would be so easy to ruin it for you. So I’ve been worried about reviewing this. The basic story is there, 10 strangers, forced to spend the night in a backwoods hotel, when they start getting picked off one by one. Who is doing it? The actress? The limo driver? The escaped convict? Remind you of other movies? “10 Little Indians” is one of my favorite workings of this theme, but this one did it one better. The joy of it for me was that I figured out what was going on, approximately 3 minutes before the movie brought it out.

I’m not a fan of horror flicks, or slasher films. I have never actually seen a Friday the 13th and have no idea what’s so scary about Elm Street, so I was a little nervous about this movie, but the movie turned out to be a lot more intellectual than bloody. In fact, most of the violence happened off screen.

Go see it. You won’t regret it. The camera work was good, the plot was better than average, John Cusack was wonderful (He can take pictures of my dead bodies anytime… wow, that came out more disturbing that it sounded in my head) and no one came into the theatre to slit my throat. What more could a person want from a night at the movies?

Clare’s rating: It was a dark and stormy night… OR WAS IT ?!?


Dear Mr. Cusack,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Clare and I have been following your acting career quite closely for, well, the last 15 or so years. I have seen every movie you’ve ever appeared in. I am, to put it simply, somewhat obsessed with you. Not in an “I’m going to break into your house and try on your socks” kind of way. More in an “I take it personally when you make sh***y movies” kind of way.

Sure. I love you unconditionally. As much as a person can love another person they’ve never met, spoken to, seen in real life or know anything of substance about. It’s a special kind of love. A love, that until recently, was being put to the test. I looked around and found myself hip deep Con Air and Pushing Tin. And just as I had cleaned off the stench of those two cow pies from my shoes (thanks Being John Malkovich!), I walked blindly into America’s Sweethearts and it stung like a frying pan upside my head.

Clearly, I felt that you were trying to push me away. That you no longer cared about my love for you. Nor were you particularly concerned with what you had to participate in to get yourself a paycheck. All this previously interesting work you’d done. All the Tapeheads and Grifters and Say Anythings. All the Fat Men and Little Boys, Grosse Pointe Blanks and High Fidelitys. All becoming distant memories in your career while you slogged around in material that was well beneath your obvious talents. I had begun to pack my bags Mr. Cusack. I was preparing myself for the day I would watch your E! True Hollywood Story and cry bitter tears over what could have been.

And then I saw Identity. I don’t know if you’ve changed management, had some sort of Gestalt moment or have simply come to your damn senses. Perhaps it was a combination of all of those things. All I know is that you were great in it. You were dark and conflicted and sad and serious. You were convincingly confused, horrified, weary and angry. Sometimes you were all of these things in a 20 second stretch of time. You played off your abundantly talented costars with ease. You stood out in the rain and looked hangdog and sexy all at the same time. You made me care about what would happen to you next. And that’s something that hasn’t happened in quite a while. You reminded me why I fell in love with you to begin with and rejuvenated my desire to see you do good work, to make solid choices, to continue to be an acting force to be reckoned with.

So I’m writing you this letter today to tell you one thing. You damn well better keep it up. Because you’re a smart guy and you’ve made tremendous films in the past. You’re more talented than lots of other far more famous and far less compelling actors on the scene and you always have been. So don’t screw it up by getting lazy or complacent. Stop making fluffy, stupid romantic comedies that have no soul and keep making movies that challenge you and the audience to think a little and really delve into the lives of the characters your portraying. Because I don’t want to have to write you another letter a few years down the road dissecting at length where everything started to unravel. You deserve to continue making interesting, challenging acting choices and your fans deserve to be able to watch them once you’ve gotten them on film.

It's all fun and games until you forget that you tied Larry up, and he becomes Larry Skeleton
It’s all fun and games until you forget that you tied Larry up, and he becomes Larry Skeleton


  • Several endings were filmed in order to shroud the real conclusion in secrecy.
  • A digital clock jumps from 12:20 to 12:25 and back between shots.
  • At the beginning of the movie, when Ed is driving the actress, the digital speedometer in their Lincoln clearly reads “0”
  • As Paris drives through her Florida orange grove, you see in the distance, down the dirt road, a mountain range. There are no mountain ranges in Florida.
  • Film Legends: John Cusack
    Born in 1966, John Cusack has made a career out of playing unconventional heroes. He comes from a family of actors (including sister Joan Cusack), and studied acting at the Piven Theater Workshop (owned by good friend Jeremy “Droz” Piven’s parents) at the age of 8. After a few bit parts in movies, John landed a part in The Sure Thing, as the starring role. He quickly became an 80s cult icon, acting in beloved flicks like Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, and Tapeheads, along with famous cameos in such movies as Sixteen Candles and Stand By Me. But probably his most famous pre-adult turn was as Lloyd Dobler in the classic romance/comedy Say Anything. From 1994-1996, Cusack took a hiatus from acting, but came back strong by co-writing, producing and starring in Grosse Pointe Blank. Since then he’s been in a variety of films, from High Fidelity to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He also formed the production company New Crime Productions with his two high school friends, Steve Pink, and D.V. DeVincents.
    Striding the line between A- and B-list actors, Cusack has always been wary of too much fame. He’s been quoted as saying, “Celebrity is death…celebrity…that’s the worst thing that can happen to an actor.” John is a smoker, been kickboxing ever since his role in Say Anything, and is about 6’2″ or 6’3″.

Groovy Quotes

Paris: That’s not possible! I saw what happened! We all saw what happened!

Rhodes: You have a name?
Paris: Paris.
Rhodes: Huh, Paris. Never been there.
Paris: Well you ain’t going tonight.

Larry: We don’t rent out rooms by the hour.
Paris: Ah, funny.

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