vt Fake Identity
US / 93 minutes / color / Millennium, Nu Image Dir: Dennis Dimster-Denk Pr & Scr: Zvia Dimbort, Dennis Dimster-Denk Cine: Lorenzo Senatore Cast: Val Kilmer, Izabella Miko, Julian Wadham, Hristo Shopov, Michael Cronin, Valentine Pelka, Valentin Ganev, Rushen Vidiniev, Zachary Baharov, Julian Vergov, Daniel Perrone, Ryan Dauner, Nicolai Hadjiminev, Kenneth Hughes, Viktor Kalev, Harry Anichkin.
Dr. Nicholas “Nick” Pinter (Kilmer), who works for a sort of Médecins Sans Frontières clone called Doctors Beyond Border, is in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a conference. One night, driving out to the country to conduct an emergency delivery, he pauses and is promptly picked up by a beautiful brunette, who begs him to drive her away from the thugs who’re pursuing her. As soon as they’re clear she says goodbye, and he assumes he’ll never see her again.
Later that night, the baby delivered, he’s seized by the cops and accused of being a diamond smuggler called John Charter. He’s soon released, though, on the recognizance of his Doctors Beyond Border boss, Paulo Ivanoff (Perrone). Paulo persuades him to give an address to the conference; at the reception Nick sees the mysterious brunette, now a mysterious blonde and on the arm of Kargykistan mafia boss Serik Doulova (Shopov) ‑‑ whom Nick recognizes as involved with the cops who arrested him.
The demise of Paulo (Daniel Perrone).
That night, in Nick’s room, the two old friends get happily hammered on cheap Bulgarian vodka. When Nick staggers off to the bathroom, an assassin, Alexander (Baharov), breaks in and garrotes Paulo, then socks the returning Nick on the head. Next Nick knows he’s being tasered in a basement by Doulova, Alexander and another goon, Victor Krastev (Vergov). When he finally persuades them that he really, really isn’t John Charter, Doulova instructs his two goons to take Nick out into the woods and bury him somewhere remote.
Nick (Val Kilmer) is driven to what everyone assumes will be his lonely grave. The goon beside him is Viktor (Julian Vergov).
After digging his own grave, Nick manages to escape. Back in Sofia he finds he’s a marked man, hunted by the cops for the murder of Paulo. He goes to the US Embassy where an official, Mr. Pimstone (Hughes), makes an excuse to step outside a moment and promptly contacts the leader of a group that we soon believe is a British Secret Service cell, headed by Sterling (Wadham) and his sidekick Matthew Murdoch (Pelka). After variegated hijinx, Nick and the mysterious woman of the ever-changing hair color, Katrine (Miko, who manages to look marvelous in every wig she wears), realize they’ve fallen in love, and she determines to save his life at whatever cost.
Nick (Val Kilmer) spends much of the movie on the run from one set of bad (or even good) guys or another.
She has been embedded (as it were) as Doulova’s mistress by Sterling’s group ‑‑ who, far from being MI5 or the like, are the enforcers of the Denoy diamond cartel, eager to ensure their supplies from the Republic of Kargykistan are uninterrupted even though the Kargykistan government, whose Interior Minister, Vadim Abilov (a splendidly granite-faced Anichkin), is in town to try to negotiate a new contract with major US diamond retailer Allen Jacob (Cronin). Doulova wants to kill Nick because he thinks he’s the enemy wheeler-dealer John Charter. Sterling wants to kill him because he’s a loose end.
Katrine (Izabella Miko) tends the injured Nick (Val Kilmer) under the watchful eye of , Sterling (Julian Wadham).
Are you keeping up with all this plot? If so, you’re doing pretty well ‑‑ and this is a very much simplified version. A further elaboration occurs when Katrine brings her ex-cop uncle, Ludvik Seifert (Ganev, in excellent form), in on the act to protect the fugitive Nick. Ludvik works out much of what’s going on but never gets the chance to explain it to Nick because . . . Oh, wait a moment: that’s later on in this very complicated story.
Although there’s the occasional plot hole and minor continuity error (one evening Krastev needs a bandage on his head where Nick hit him with a rock; the next morning there’s no sign at all of any injury), the story does in fact in the end all make sense (an exception is a sort of deus ex machina late on of a minor character called Tomas [Kalev]); although sometimes I was staring at the screen in bewilderment as to what precisely was going on, I was actually enjoying that experience rather than being infuriated by it. As Katrine tells Nick at one point, “Nothing is what it seems.”
The one real howler in the screenplay occurs in the opening seconds, when a caption informs us that the story’s set in 1992. For the rest of the movie we see people with cellphones, modern cars, etc. etc., etc. I can only guess that the specification of a 1992 setting was an afterthought, perhaps to explain why the Republic of Kargykistan was “newly emergent” ‑‑ as the script says. Yet other parts of the screenplay make it evident that Kargykistan has been up and running for quite a number of years.
Willingness to follow the narrative wherever it might flow is very much braced by the endlessly intriguing nature of the character Katrine. Miko is a very attractive woman and the fact that she trained as a ballerina gives her movements a pleasing grace; that helps too, but it’s not really what I’m talking about. Sometimes Katrine seems a sort of ultra femme fatale, albeit one scheming on the side of the angels; at other times she comes across more as, almost, an urchin, a gamine. The wigs assist in delineating these seeming shifts of personality, of course, but the root of the fascination is something written into the screenplay to which Miko has responded magnificently in her performance.
Katrine (Izabella Miko) bewigged in gamine mode.
Kilmer’s performance, by contrast, has garnered a lot of hostility ‑‑ he’s too fat, he’s a bit slow-moving, etc. Yet, at the time of filming he was around 50 and playing a character ‑‑ a physician distinguished enough to be addressing an international conference ‑‑ who quite plausibly might have been the same age. In one or two places there’s the sense that we’re looking at a stunt double (did portly Dr. Pinter really hurdle that wall?), but for the most part the presentation of Nick is pretty consistent and pretty credible. I’d venture to swim against the current of the critical stream and suggest that Kilmer has been a far better actor since he lost his boyish, baby-faced good looks.
There are some great moments in the screenplay. I was drawn especially by the scenes in which the hitmen Alexander and Krastev are driving Nick to his destination with an unmarked grave. They treat the intended murder with a matter-of-factness that reveals Hannah Arendt’s famed banality of evil. Victor does the crossword in the back of the car, and asks Nick for help with the clues, while Alexander curses himself for forgetting to pick up a loaf of bread earlier in the day. As Nick digs his own grave, Alexander gets a phonecall from his kid, who needs reassurance about a nightmare . . .
The cinematography is outstanding, and often there are frames that you simply want to freeze so you can gape at them for a while. Some of these are shows of Sofia’s architecture, but others are little cinematographic digressions ‑‑ as when, at one point, Doulova looks across the cell in which he’s being held at a dripping tap and we follow his gaze to see a wall (and tap!) that could have been framed and mounted in a gallery.
There’s some quite lovely cinematography — especially unexpected in a DTV.
All in all, then, it’s a trifle hard to understand why this wasn’t given a big-screen debut; far, far worse movies than Double Identity have received a red-carpet treatment. The movie’s no Oscar winner, and plenty of its plot elements come from the common stockpot rather than breaking bold new ground, but you could say much the same about whatever James Bond movie has just been released. Double Identity offers a tantalizingly convoluted mystery, one superb and several very good performances, and an enormous number of very beautiful images. It’s well worth an hour and a half of your time.
On Amazon.com: Double Identity (DVD)