Cocktails and Movies: Take Out Theater – “Identity”

By Tim Barley

James Mangold’s mystery thriller provides one twist after another until the very end

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d go away…  – “Antigonish” by Hughes Mearns

identity-2003If you know that poem, then you understand right away that James Mangold’s Identity is going to be a thrill ride. And, yes, anyone who’s watched enough whodunit’s can guess what’s really going on. But, the movie is still fun to watch to this day, even after you know its secret. It’s a mystery packed with some great performances by some great character actors all given a chance to shine, playing 10 strangers facing a killer while stranded in a Nevada desert hotel during a thunderstorm. If we had a dime for every time we heard this story… Yet, Mangold’s directing skills are able to take Michael Cooney’s script and turn it into a crisp “who’s doing what.” This week’s Take Out Theater selection is Identity. And if you’re too wired after, thinking about the big reveal at the end, we guarantee you that the accompanying cocktail should have you well on your way to forgetting what just happened and a good night’s sleep…

The Film

Identity Identity
Directed By: James Mangold
Year Released: 2003
Starring: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Clea Duvall, John Hawkes, Rebecca DeMornay
Rating: R (violence and language)
Runtime:  91 Minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
Available on: Amazon streaming, DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix?

At a desert motel on a lonely stretch of Nevada highway, 10 strangers find themselves stranded during a storm with a killer amongst them. The opening of the movie finds a car racing up to a motel as George York (John C McGinley) gets out carrying his wife, Alice who has been struck by a car driven by Ed (John Cusack). The film quickly shifts back in time just before the accident and we see high strung, straight laced George getting a blowout. As he fixes it, Alice gets out and is struck by Ed’s limo right in front of their son, Timmy (Bret Loeher). Ed is driving actress Caroline Suzzane (Rebecca DeMornay) to LA. Now, all of them head to the hotel to wait out the storm, and the manager Larry (John Hawkes) rents them rooms.

Meanwhile, a scheduled execution of a mass murderer is put on hold pending the discovery of the killer’s diary, written in various voices. Doctor Malick (Alfred Molina) explains to the judge in the case that the killer has dissociative personality disorder and that each of his personalities could be the killer. It’s the doctor’s job to explain to the judge that the state cannot execute the man because he is not aware of the crimes he committed.

At the hotel, more stranded motorists arrive, including newlyweds Ginny (Clea Duvall) and Lou (William Lee Scott), Paris (Amanda Peet) a hooker on the run, and Rhodes (Ray Liotta) a corrections officer transporting Robert Maine (Jake Busey). Right away, we see that each of them has a distinct past, a secret and a strong personality which conflict with each other. With the roads washed out, no one is going anywhere. As the storm grows worse, people start to die off. Caroline Suzanne is found by Ed with a hotel room key stuck in her mouth. Although she was staying in room 9, the number 10 key is found in her mouth. When everyone finds out, they think it is the con Robert who has gone missing. Then Lou is killed and they find the number 9 key on his body.

Mangold does a great job of not giving away the secret right way, (even though it’s easy to figure out by now), leading us to different suspect at various stages. He even throws in a  little supernatural and character head scratching moments, such as when Robert tries to flee to another set of buildings about a mile away from the motel, only to find himself in the motel’s cafe. In leading us slightly down one path, only to have it dead end or double back on itself, Mangold gets us to plunge us into this deepening mystery. Clearly no one is getting out of this hotel. Possibly not alive anyway.

identity-2003 2After Robert is caught and later found dead (with the number 8 key on him), everyone now begins to suspect Larry who has the only other set of keys to the rooms. He tries to escape, and kills George with his truck. When Alice finally succumbs to her injuries, they find the number 6 key on her and they go back out to find George who has the number 7 key on him. Things begin to break down over the impossibility of the situation. Ed sends Ginny and Timmy to her car to get away, but it blows up. And then the dead bodies begin to disappear. At one of the rooms, they all discover they have the same birthday, which adds to the mystery of what is really going on.

Back at the hearing, the contents of Malcolm’s journal are revealed, indicating Malcolm harboring ten distinct personalities. Mallick brings forth the Ed personality, revealing what’s actually going on (if you haven’t figure it out by now, I won’t give it away now…). In the motel setting, Ed believes Rhodes is the murderer, and the two shoot each other to death, leaving only Paris alive. The only one left, Paris is able to return to Florida and her inherited orange grove… Or is she the only one left?

Like I said, although it is reminiscent of Agatha Christie, if you have seen enough movies, you know what the premise is in this film, if not even able to guess from the clues who the actually killer is. It might just give away too much too soon. Then again, after watching it again over the weekend, I was still entertained. The film movies along at a pretty solid pace, with much of a lull anywhere in its short run time. Mangold is able to get some great performances from this film, including a different turn from John Cusack, who after High Fidelity and his turns as sad sack romantic, turned to more dramatic fare, including 1408 and Runaway Jury. Liotta is in a slow burn menacing form as a man with a huge secret. If there is one issue with the acting, it’s the histrionic Ginny who is sure she “felt something cold” and that they are on an Indian burial ground. But the smaller identity characters, including George (play to nerdy perfection by McGinley) and John Hawkes as Larry (also with a big secret), are spot on and aren’t just filler.

Identity is a quick 91 minutes of entertaining mystery and thriller. There’s a bit of blood, but nothing graphic, as the movie relies more on mood and setting to heighten the limited scare factor. Still, if you’re going to be scratching your head about what is really going on, you’re going to need a drink! Oh, wait, what have we here…

The Drink

Recommended for this movie and for any other movie you watch in which you have gotten a headache from being blown away by reveals, twists and just plain moment of wow! It’s appropriate for this film…

Mind EraserMind Eraser 2


2 oz vodka
2 oz Kahlua® coffee liqueur
2 oz tonic water

Pour vodka, kahlua, and tonic water into a rocks or old-fashioned glass.
Serve with a straw.



Thank you all once again for joining us for another installment of #TakeOutTheater! Do you have an underappreciated favorite you think we’d dig, and a cocktail that make an excellent companion? Send it our way through Facebook, Twitter, or the Comments section below? Until next week, this has been #TakeOutTheater!