The Cusack Chronicles: Identity (2003)
As I was going up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d go away.
These are the first lines of the movie and after you have watched the film, the audience realizes how close this phrase comes to giving away the plot of the whole film. James Mangold, though not a director that you will find on the Oscar bill very often, does excellent work on what films he picks to do. This one is no exception. Though panned by some critics to be too much of a “flash-in-the-pan” thriller (in the same vein as Shyamalan), this movie has more to it than just a twist ending. Yes, there is one, but it is not there just as a plot device but as a means of shifting the whole landscape of the story for the rest of the film. This movie plays out like an Alfred Hitchcock film. Nothing is as it seems. Mangold, also, cleverly tossed in every cliche that is usually in these kinds of supernatural who-dun-it films only to show how absurd those actually are (including a brilliant jab at Spielberg’s massacre of the Tobe Hooper-helmed Poltergeist with the suggestion of the Indian burial ground). Once the audience gets past the “trick” of the film, they are not just left with a clever ending, but a challenge as to the nature of identity in general. What constitutes identity and how does it manifest itself in the average person. Nonetheless, there is a lot that is good and intelligent about this movie, including an ensemble casting of mainly character actors to fill out the film.
The one thing to notice about Cusack in the 2000s is his willingness to star in thrillers and how he transforms his eccentricities into the real strengths of those characters he plays. This is the first film that the audience really sees the beauty of having an eccentric actor in a leading role. He is able to tell more about his character and endow the script with his mannerisms and facial expressions. I think, as far as acting goes, we will see that the 2000s is Cusack’s most important decade as an actor. Not every film is great, but his acting is stellar and he is able to figure out how to best use his eccentricities to his advantage in acting instead of just allowing them to bring a certain odd, but enjoyable awkwardness to the film. Identity is my first case in point for this argument. Watch it several times and you will be surprised at how many layers you will find in the film.