When you’re an independent filmmaker out to make a name for yourself, it behooves you to remember a couple of things. The first is to make the best movie you can with the (probably scarce) resources you have.
The second is to make the film not merely an honorable piece of work, but also one in which you get a chance to display certain skills that may be deemed attractive in the marketplace: action, thrills, a love scene, a car chase. Projects as disparate as The Return of the Secaucus Seven and Blood Simple have been savvy enough to serve both as good movies and as audition pieces for bigger things.
Positive I.D. is not in the imaginative league of those two films, but it’s a diverting little movie and it’s a clever audition piece. It chafes under its low budget from time to time, but its carefully unfolding mystery is enough to sustain the level of intrigue.
The movie plays a delicate game. Information comes to us only in drips and shreds; as the film opens, we watch a Fort Worth couple suffer through some domestic tension. The wife (Stephanie Rasco), it turns out, is battling to recover from a rape and the well publicized trial of the attacker, a gangland figure who has been given a ridiculously paltry sentence. The husband (John Davies) desperately tries to keep a smiley face plastered over every situation, but it doesn’t stick.
The woman becomes fascinated with the idea that an alternate identity might be assumed by using someone else’s birth certificate. Soon she’s taking over a dead woman’s name, buying a wig and false eyelashes, and establishing an entirely different existence in her spare time.
At first, this seems to be merely a neurotic game. Then we begin to sense that the woman has a purpose in mind, one which will eventually lead to an act of violence.
The writer-director-producer, Andy Anderson, is content to let this snaky narrative slither along at its own pace, which is the suitably unsettling way to do it. But he also knows when to show off, as when he wickedly creates the illusion that the wife has been suddenly caught at her ruse and arrested; in fact, she’s just getting her mug shot taken for her fake driver’s license.
Positive I.D. doesn’t have all of its wrinkles worked out, but it is a quirky example of American ingenuity, low-budget variety. And a good audition for bigger things.
First published in the Herald, October 23, 1987
Universal picked it up for distribution, maybe sensing another Blood Simple Texas indie noir in the air. Didn’t work out that way. Director Anderson was a longtime professor of film at U of Texas Arlington, and made a couple of other features; he died in 2017. I have to say, the plot sounds intriguing. At the very least, it deserves a footnote in the annals of regional moviemaking. Bonus: in his review, Michael Wilmington used the phrase “it suggests a kind of Forth Worth Belle de Jour,” so that’s worth something.