Friday, December 19, 2003

Upon Identity – Flips, Twists and General Exercise

Y’know, I actually don’t blame James Mangold for the movie Identity. I don’t. It’s not his fault that I paid attention to the audio during the title sequence and managed to figure the movie out. I guess that it’s my fault that … no, wait, I was paying attention. That’s what I should’ve been doing. I blame the writer. Yes, it’s his fault.

See, I feel that it’s entirely possible to predict whether or not a movie will be either a box-office dud, or simply a steaming pile of crap. As far as the former goes, you can basically tell from the reaction of an audience to a film trailer. Regarding the latter, there are a couple of ways: One, if the Chicago Tribune film critic enjoyed the movie, then it’s either Lord of the Rings, or it’s a steaming pile of crap. Two, systematically look at the production team, starting with the writer, then the producer, then the director and take a look at their resumes. If they have made crap in the past, they will make crap today.

***Understand this: Actors never make a movie good. You can put the best actors in the world in a Roger Corman film, and it’ll be crap because it’s a Roger Corman film. Actors can make a good movie bad, but they’ll never make a bad movie good.***

Which brings me back to Identity. I’m going to talk about the writer last, and I’m not going to talk about the producer at all, but first I’m going to talk about the director: James Mangold first attained critical success with the movie Heavy around the same time Paul Thomas Anderson did Boogie Nights. Heavy was about a fat guy and Boogie Nights was about porn. It’s no wonder Paul Thomas Anderson is the one who gets final cut. … not to mention that Anderson actually has talent. Heavy, on the other hand, was a steaming pile of crap, regardless of what the critics said. From there, Mangold made Cop Land, starring big names like Stallone, DeNiro and Liotta, but was more famous for how little they were paid than for how good the movie was. .. basically because it wasn’t that good. And then there was Girl, Interrupted. Didn’t see it. In my opinion, all women are insane, so why would I want to watch a movie about insane women? And then there was Kate & Leopold, which I didn’t watch for the reason that I was told that it’s a largely unremarkable romantic comedy. James Mangold has made lots of crap leading up to helming Identity.

Since I’m too lazy to look up the producer, I’m just going to cut to the writer. You start with the writer for the reason that I’m about to outline, and I’m not going to explain it now. I’m just going to put down Michael Cooney’s filmography as a writer, and you can draw your own conclusions: Tracks of a Killer (1995), Murder in Mind (1997), Jack Frost (1997), Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Snowman (2000), Identity (2003). … Have you concluded yet that this guy has made complete and unadulterated shit so far? If you have, give yourself a pat on the back. If you haven’t, what are you doing reading my site?

Basically, Identity falls victim to its own design. The final act of the film is set forth by what Brent Hanley, the writer of the movie Frailty, would call “the flip.” While there may be hints of what’s coming, the flip basically takes everything you know about the movie and flips it so that now you realize that it’s either partially or entirely bullshit, or maybe it just requires the audience change its point-of-view for the remainder of the film and for any time they might watch it in the future. The greatest flip of all time takes place in The Usual Suspects (and The Sixth Sense takes second-place), and the worst takes place in Devil’s Advocate.

Given that Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense are terribly good pieces of cinema, you understand why the flip at the end of each serves to tie up the story and adds an extra dimension to watching it the next time around. Devil’s Advocate is one of those horrifically bad flips, where it says, “It was all just a dream,” after Keanu Reeves commits suicide to get out of a pact with the devil. It was one cop-out after another, and served as one giant, “Hey, fuck you!” to the intelligence of the audience. Had Reeves simply committed suicide and actually died, it would have been a down-ending, yes, but it would have served to elevate Reeves’ character to a sort of Christ-figure, since the whole film was about fighting temptation, anyway. But it was all just a dream, which is the worst flip you can throw at an audience, because it says, “What you just watched was bullshit and doesn’t matter at all.” And then, just before Sympathy For The Devil starts playing, the flip gets twisted into an, “It was just a dream… or was it?” thing, and at that point, it’s gotten so goddamn annoying that I stop paying attention.

So, that’s the Flip. I’d like to thank Brent Hanley’s commentary on Frailty for explaining that one. By the way, the flip in Frailty is a little shaky, but it’s nothing too bad. Had that flip not occurred, then even having Powers Boothe’s character in the film would have made no sense, let alone the fact that Matthew McConaughey’s character could have been lying the entire time. The flip brings the film around, in my opinion, and ends up forcing the audience to drop any belief that the McConaughey’s bullshitting the FBI-guy (Boothe). Also, Hanley serves up an opinion I agree with, which is, “Anyone who says they saw the flip coming in Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects the first time they saw the movie is lying.”

So, Identity is a case like Devil’s Advocate, where the flip served to piss me off. I’ll say that the cinematography of Identity is pretty good, all things considered, but the fact that it’s a psychological thriller that ends up genuinely (or not, as the case may be) ends up being a “psychological thriller.” *shrug* I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I agree with Charlie Kaufman that the only greater cliché than serial killers in cinema is multiple-personality disorder.

Given that this post got way, way longer than I was initially planning, I’m going to talk about The Hulk another time. In short, it’s yet another Marvel superhero adaptation that managed to pleasantly surprise me, like Daredevil (yes, shocking), Blade, Spider-Man or the X-Men films. Furthermore, the movie Amelie has no plot, but I guess I should’ve expected that, seeing how it’s French, and they don’t really require that sort integral filmmaking element in France. Hell, by the end of Identity, I’d discovered that it’s not really necessary here in America, either.

AIM: therbmcc71
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