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Jack of all trades

National | James Mangold is a talented director seemingly at home in any genre.

Issue: "No man's land," May 10, 2003

James Mangold is a talented director seemingly at home in any genre. His film debut was a quiet independent movie called Heavy, about a lonely, overweight man played by Pruitt Taylor Vince. This he followed with the police drama Cop Land, then the mental-illness-themed Girl, Interrupted, which won co-star Angelina Jolie an Oscar. His last film was the preposterously plotted but truly delightful Kate & Leopold, a Meg Ryan romantic comedy vehicle that celebrated bygone qualities of chivalry, and, yes, even gentlemanly virtue.

Now comes Mr. Mangold's latest effort, the pseudo-horror film Identity (rated R for strong violence and bad language), which made its box-office debut at No. 1. The film expands his repertoire in yet another direction. Identity starts out reliably in the horror genre, but does so with a sort of carefree ferocity that makes the cliched set-up compelling.

Ten guests-a faded actress and her limo driver, a just-married couple, a cop transporting a convict, a prostitute, a family of three-all strangers, arrive for one reason or another at a remote desert motel during a fierce rainstorm. A squirmy, uncomfortable hotel clerk greets them all and assigns them their seedy rooms. Once the players are in place, marooned by flooded roadways and dead phone lines, someone starts knocking them off, a la Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians.

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Two-thirds of the way through Identity the audience is given a major clue in understanding why all of this is happening, and it's a suitably shocking but not entirely untelegraphed twist. It's clever but still gimmicky. Other reviewers have made much of the shift in tone that occurs at this point in the film, taking Identity out of the realm of traditional horror. There is some truth in this, but be warned: The violence in Identity is, as the rating suggests, very strong, and the foul language flows freely throughout the film.

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