This film, directed by James Mangold, is one that I was very impressed with in its original theatrical release, and revisiting it now, it still holds up as an effective thriller. Supported by a remarkable ensemble cast and a brilliant screenplay, Identity delivers a mind-bending story that cleverly weaves its way around a classic murder mystery premise.
Strangers from all different walks of life are all trapped by a torrential rain storm on a Nevada road one night. They are forced to take shelter at an old roadside motel, run by the nervous manager Larry (John Hawkes). There is Ed Dakota, a limo driver, escorting fading television star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay), the turbulent married couple of George & Alice York (John C. McGinley & Leila Kinzel) with their young son Timothy (Bret Loehr), Rhodes, a Department of Corrections officer transporting the dangerous convict Robert Maine (Jake Busey), a beautiful call girl (Amanda Peet), and a couple of young newlyweds (William Lee Scott & Clea DuVall). None of them are at ease amongst these strangers, but circumstances become dire when someone begins murdering them one-by-one. Accusations begin to fly as paranoia and fear escalate, but they will all begin to discover very strange truths about their supposed chance encounter here. Meanwhile in an undisclosed location, in an eleventh hour court hearing, psychiatrist Dr. Mallick (Alfred Molina) tries to prove the innocence and sanity of his patient, Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who has been convicted of murder, and is scheduled to face execution in twenty-four hours. How both of these stories connect is a mystery of identity.
This film will keep you guessing from one moment to the next as to many things. Many twists unfold in plot and perception, and when you think this film has twisted your thoughts into many knots, it throws one final one at you. Now, these twists won’t leave you lost, there’s plenty of breathing room and enough exposition to allow you to understand all that is happening. It is very cleverly paced and structured to keep an audience ensnared through the entire mystery. This film is tense, suspenseful, creepy, and haunting. It is an excellent psychological thriller that has far more to it than just a group of people getting killed off in a very Agatha Christie fashion. In fact, no other film I have seen has utilized this genre quite so well. There is just as much psychological terror for the characters as there is for the audience.
Director James Mangold brilliantly builds suspense and paranoia with a troubling sense of unease. A group of strangers stranded in a run down desert motel definitely lends to that feeling. Considering one of them is a known violent criminal heightens that even more. Subtle things are revealed to the audience that add to our apprehension knowing certain people are not who they claim or appear to be. This creates plenty of clever misdirection. Add in some volatile and emotionally distressed characters, and the tension is wrapped so a tight, unnerving level. When that tension finally breaks, it’s heart pounding. The film hardly never allows an audience to relax fully. There’s regularly some form of urgency or excitement that propels the characters forward towards danger.
The style of the film is very original such as with the immediate flashbacks. You’ll see a lot of them at the start and a bit near the end. They show how certain events brought everyone together in a unique non-linear fashion. It nicely punctuates certain plot elements such as it was Paris’ high-heeled shoe that flew out of her opened suitcase that caused the York’s flat tire later that night. It’s a nice, quick storytelling tool that helps move the story ahead quickly without leaving even small questions unanswered. I enjoyed that element quite a bit, and the direction and editing of them was very handled well. The addition of the rain storm throughout the film is classically atmospheric, and adds to the treacherous, mysterious qualities of the plot. Danger and paranoia are abound as things get stranger and stranger, and the torrential rain and thunder claps simply unsettle the characters and the audience further.
The surreal aspects are also subtly handled. They forge an underlying peculiarity for the strangers at the motel. They attempt to explain them in various ways, but eventually, these occurrences go far beyond mere coincidence or rationale. They can’t make sense of it, but it truly freaks them out. It creates a bizarre, twisted web for them all. These aspects build up so beautifully to an absolutely mind-blowing revelation.
Identity is masterfully shot and edited. Shooting in all that nighttime rain never muddles the visuals. We always have a clear picture of what’s happening without sacrificing the dramatic, moody cinematography. The film evenly balances between various indoor and outdoor scenes giving an audience enough variety in the visuals to keep our eyes interested. There is such great atmosphere crafted into how the film is shot, and the editing really supports the lingering suspense expertly. When things begin deconstructing in the third act, the editing creates an amazing visual style which perfectly represents the psychological chaos. It’s all a superbly executed thriller with many gripping twists and turns that have an excellent conclusion.
This ensemble cast is magnificent! There strong performances all around with John Cusack being the obvious trusting protagonist. He brings his usual heart and wit along with a solid dramatic weight. Ed Dakota is a very relatable character with a great depth of pain and desire to do what is right. He’s given a strong back story that Cusack really grasps the emotional weight and guilt Ed carries with him, making him someone we can invest our confidence in.
Ray Liotta has a nice turn showing both a hardened strength and a shadier side that surfaces later on. He is very intense, confrontational, and adversarial while projecting a presence of authority with a more temperamental edge. Jake Busey is convincingly intimidating and dangerous with a crazed look in his eye coupled with his reliable charisma. John Hawkes is another stellar actor who can deliver a deep array of emotions. Here, he runs the full gamut ranging from nervous and skittish to violent and unhinged. And I really have to say that Rebecca De Mornay is hotter here than I have ever seen her before. She’s beyond gorgeous in my view, as I have an affinity for red heads, and she does a wonderful job as the somewhat egotistical actress Caroline Suzanne. She’s definitely a pleasure. And of course, I always expect nothing less than excellence from John C. McGinley, as many do these days, and he doesn’t fail here. His George York is a very nervous man with little self-confidence who doesn’t cope with these violent, tragic situations well. McGinley brings a lot of compassion and simple innocence to this caring husband and step-father.
Alfred Molina is perfect as Dr. Mallick presenting a soft-spoken, intelligent psychiatrist with a sense of empathy. Pruitt Taylor Vince has always impressed me taking on some substantive and sometimes peculiar roles, and doing an exceptionally unique and standout job in them. For what little time he has on screen, he brings that same level of talent to Malcolm Rivers. That jittery eye trick he does seems to land him these off-kilter roles, and it is distinctly effective.
I really have to hand it to the screenwriting talents of Michael Clooney, and especially the directorial abilities of James Mangold. Both crafted together a very solid, smart, and effective thriller that has plenty of genuine scares and suspense to entertain an audience. Because of this, it still has re-watch value. The film is so strong that it would still work just as marvelously without the major twist at the end. The mystery thriller aspect with people being killed off at the motel is just expertly executed in every way. The addition of said twist just ups the psychological brilliance of the concept. I definitely give Identity a wholehearted recommendation, just as I did when it was theatrically released.
Brilliance! That is what this film has always been to me. It had controversy surrounding it when it was made and released, but time resolves these issues. Films that take chances and tackle some explicit subject matter often polarize audiences, but all I ever saw from this was a hell of an entertaining, genius piece of cinema. A true twisted classic that introduced me to one of my favorite actors of all time.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is an empty man. He lacks emotion, he lacks a sense of reality, and seriously lacks a genuine sense of humanity. “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman…but I simply am not there.” For whatever perverse reason, Patrick Bateman is completely disassociated from the rest of humanity. He’s a Wall Street executive that really does nothing all day long, but earns loads of money despite it. He finds many people despicable from his girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) to his own co-workers to the random homeless man on the street. By night, he has a terrible bloodlust that he is slowly losing control of. But the question ends up being – what is reality and what is just pure fantasy? This is a dark, dark journey through the mind of one demented and empty individual – welcome to the life of Patrick Bateman.
Christian Bale is a marvel! I really was not familiar at all with Bale before this film, but afterwards, I took close notice of him. When I heard he was up for the role of Batman / Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins I was 100% in support of him, and he proved me and many others right. The man has brilliant acting abilities, and fully immerses himself within his roles, both mentally and physically. As Patrick Bateman, he plays the role with a lot of fun. The manic and maddening nature of Bateman is brought out fully under Bale’s talents, and it becomes a wholly satisfying performance that will disturb and entertain. Bateman is a seriously sick man, and honestly has no comfort zone in this world of ours – probably why he becomes lost in his own world of fantasy. Bale just plays it up like I believe no one else ever possibly could. His moments of introspection are unsettling as he knows that he’s a sociopath, but has no idea just how far off the deep end he will go.
The supporting cast is wonderful as well. They give quite the counter-balance to Bateman’s madness and hysteria. Reese Witherspoon has a small, yet pertinent role as Bateman’s girlfriend who is a regular materialistic, high society snob that’s rather oblivious to Patrick in general, and Bateman, in return, cannot stomach her. Willem Dafoe wonderfully portrays Detective Donald Kimball, who is hired to investigate the disappearance of one of Patrick’s co-workers – Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Through the brilliance of Dafoe’s acting and Mary Harron’s directing, you never quite know what Kimball does or doesn’t know. He keeps Bateman guessing – not to mention sweating. While much has been admittedly attributed to editing two different performances by Dafoe, he delivers both qualities with a great deal of skill. He has fantastic chemistry with Bale.
Jared Leto is also wonderfully hilarious as Paul Allen. There’s enough satire in what he does to make the character not simply a stuck-up moron. Leto plays stupid very intelligently. He holds up his end of the scenes with Bale equally well. He’s immensely entertaining, and an excellent encapsulation of this film’s satirical mindset. The entire cast is just great. They all play very intriguing characters, and they all do so extremely well. There’s not a negative note about any of it.
The music in this film plays up the off-balance mental state of Bateman. It goes between very high class music reflecting an affluent sensibility, and Bateman’s love of contemporary pop music. With this being set in the late 1980s, the soundtrack is rich with songs from Phil Collins, Robert Palmer, and Huey Lewis & The News. When this music is set against particular scenes, it accentuates Bateman’s dementia to an extreme. My favorite is with Lewis’ “Hip to be Square” where Bale engages in the lamest little dance which is actually a stroke of improvisational brilliance on Christian Bale’s part. If ever I were to meet Mr. Bale, I’d love to put this song on the stereo, and have him re-enact that moment. It cracks me up like crazy. The score is beautifully composed by John Cale, and it was an absolute stroke of genius to take this route.
This film is a dark satire on 1980s American capitalism in how the desire for wealth dominates everyone’s lives, and how it dwarfs their sense of humanity and morality. Most of the characters are so full of themselves that they can barely tell one person apart from another, or at least, don’t place enough worth on anyone else to care. Mistaken identities are abound in the film, which is an allegory to how Bateman has no real sense of self. Everything in the film reflects upon that since it is all told from his perspective. With Christian Bale being a Welshman, I’m sure that allowed him to bring an original perspective towards the satirical subject matter and Bateman himself.
American Psycho was mainly controversial for its use of explicit sex, violence, and twisted psychological subject matter. That means the film is not for everyone as these are all taken to generous extremes, especially in the highly satisfying unrated cut. There are a lot of great sequences in this film because of those elements, none that I will spoil for you, but many are there to reveal the fact that Patrick Bateman tries to emulate certain behaviors. From a pornographic video to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he integrates them into his twisted fantasies, but there remains the question – how real are they? The psychological ambiguity of this film is masterful. There is plenty of evidence to support whatever theory you choose, but you have to look at the subtleties to truly grasp all the possible meanings. Did Bateman actually do all these horrendous, violent acts, and the world is just so consumed with greed, self-importance, and indifference that it doesn’t matter? Or is Bateman so far out of his mind that he cannot separate his own sick fantasies from hard reality? Both theories are fascinating to explore, and neither can be entirely discounted. This is not one of those films which presents you all the evidence, and just leaves you blowing in the wind as the credits roll. That’s where Patrick Bateman’s internal monologues come in. They give you a perspective on these things, and allows you to see it all through his eyes. And even at the end, Bateman doesn’t know what to believe, but with that internal voice, an audience gains the only thing that matters – what it all means to Bateman.
American Psycho is a crazed psychological descent into a giant black void that is filled with immense entertainment values. You can indulge yourself in Bateman’s over-the-top manic madness, or get completely freaked out by it – or both. Whatever the case, director Mary Harron delivered a massively unique and fascinating adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. It gave Christian Bale what was most likely his breakout role. I absolutely love this film, and if that means I’m a bit strange, then I find that to be nothing new. I give American Psycho a perfect score and my strongest recommendation to whoever feels this is for them.