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Freedmen was, fittingly, the first word of nearly every title that ran on Ray Liottapassed last week; any actor who can stand up to Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in a Martin Scorsese classic deserves recognition. But, in addition to excelling in the badass persona, he also had a vulnerable side as well as comedic chops. As a result, the list of his memorable performances is impressive.

He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his first supporting role in something wild; he played the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson in field of dreams; he flew like a lopsided cop in Illegal entry; he ate his own brain in Hannibal; he appeared in two Muppet movies (space muppets and Most Wanted Muppets); he played a central role as the partner of Ryan Reynolds in Smokin’ Ace; he fought with Seth Rogen to the tune of Queen in observe and report; and he voiced the protagonist of one of the most famous video games of all time, Grand Theft Auto Vice Cityto name a few.

But the Ray Liotta movie I think about the most is 2003 Identify, in which he plays one of many people left stranded in a desolate Nevada motel due to torrential rains only to be kidnapped one by one by an unknown killer. It’s essentially a modern retelling of Agatha Christie’s influential 1939 thriller. And then there was no more (which a character directly references in the film) until an earthquake twist recontextualizes everything.

Guests include limo driver Ed (John Cusack), corrections officer Rhodes (Liotta) and his prisoner transport Robert Maine (Jacques Busey, Starship Troopers), sex worker Paris (Amanda Peet, The X-Files: I Want to Believe), actress diva Caroline (Rebecca de Mornay, Risky business), the newlyweds Lou (William Lee Scott, Butterfly Effect) and Ginny (Clea Du Vall, Faculty), parents George (John C. McGinley, Scrubs) and Alice (Leila Kenzle, Crazy of you) with his young son Timmy (Bret Loehr), and motel manager Larry (John Hawke, winter bone).

The plethora of characters are deftly juggled, each easily defined by their quirks after quick introductions via careful editing (courtesy of the Oscar-winner David Brenner) flashbacks showing their crossed trajectories. As the mystery grows, Story B concerns an informal trial for death row inmate Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince, Constantine), with Alfred Molina (Spiderman 2) as his psychiatrist and Holmes Osborne (Donnie Darko) as a judge.

Identify is a thrill ride that builds blurred area-esque intrigue while building tension over the course of 90 minutes. The rug is pulled several times from under the viewer, including with a clever third-act twist that might surprise M. Night Shyamalan and again with a shocking button just before the credits roll. Like any good mystery, the clues are hidden in plain sight, making repeat viewings rewarding.

James Mangold (Logan, Ford versus Ferrari) was a somewhat unexpected choice to direct Identify in 2003, coming off back-to-back praised dramas with girl interrupted and Kate and Leopold, but he does it brilliantly. Although confined to one place, the visuals never get boring. Work with the director of photography Phedon Papamichael (The pursuit of happiness, Ford versus Ferrari), Mangold gives the glossy picture a neo-noir feel with dark cinematography and an endless stream of rain.

Identity 2003 ray liotta

Equally surprising is the fact that the tightly plotted script was written by Michael Cooneywhose only previous work of note is writing and directing the 1997 cult classic The Killer Snowman Jack Frost. He uses his genre background by injecting a slasher movie mentality into the psychological thriller. As Cusack notes in a making-of featurette, “In a lot of movies, you have to do things where the character drives the plot. It’s one where, in a way, the actors are kind of those elegant chess pieces; the writer and director weave these different stories together.

From screen veterans to character actors, the quirky ensemble plays well with each other. Cusack shines as the flawed hero. Liotta, reuniting with Mangold after working together on 1997 cop lands, delivers layered performance. Peet embodies the independent woman who refuses to be abused. A bespectacled McGinley plays inefficiently well shaken. Busey is effortlessly disreputable. Vince, who starred in Mangold’s 1995 debut Heavyis scary but friendly.

Angelo Badalamenti (twin peaks) was originally hired to compose the soundtrack, to be replaced by Alan Silvestri. Silvestri’s score is decidedly more subtle than his grandiose work in the likes of Back to the Future, The Avengersand Forrest Gump, but it’s weird enough to match the tone of the film. The soundtrack also makes good use of Foo Fighters’ “All My Life” and Bob Dylan’s “I Want You”.

The film was shot in the Los Angeles area on a budget of $28 million. Identify opened at No. 1 at the box office on April 25, 2003, grossing over $16 million, and went on to earn over $90 million worldwide. It received mixed but generally favorable reviews, coming in at 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I can see why it might come undone with the twist for some, I consider it a near-perfect thriller, as it ingeniously subverts expectations at every turn with barely a dull moment. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

Identity 2003 cusack

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