2014 is obviously the year of the religious feel good film and the next one in line is The Identical. Made by City of Peace Films, which is so new there is no existing information about the production company on IMDbPro, this rated PG film – for “smoking and thematic material” – has the feel of an “After School Special” for bigger kids.
This is not to say that the film is not good or enjoyable, but it does feel a bit…simplistic. It definitely has the same sort of aura about it as those award winning “educational” anthologies. The film could also be seen as a sort of non stop-action animation Davey and Goliath sort of story, sans Goliath.
Perhaps more like the latter than the former since this is a message picture of sorts. The Identical deals with a “what if” scenario that revolves around a sort of Elvis character, whose twin brother doesn’t die but is given away to a good family to raise during the depths of the depression in the 1930s.
A young couple, William and Helen Hemsley, just married and pregnant, are looking desperately for work. Shortly after finding that none exists, the mother gives birth to twins. William, miserable and afraid for his new family, goes to a tent revival being run by Pastor Wade and his wife Louise.
This religious couple, who travel the south preaching the gospel, have a sadness and grief all their own. The pastor shares with his small congregation that Louise has miscarried again and that God may not have plans for them to be parents.
Just before this information, Wade told the listening crowd that it was better to give than to receive. With this seed planted, William goes home and talks his new wife into giving one of their twins to the Pastor and Mrs. Wade.
The 2014 feature film, The Identical then focuses on the Wade family, watching the young twin Ryan interact with his “new” surroundings. The next few years with Ryan Wade shows the audience that the one thing that makes him feel good is music. He even uses it to memorise scripture for his father who wants him to join the ministry.
As this musical interest of Ryan’s increases, he also learns that he has musical talent. He can write songs, sing and play the guitar and he is great at all three. Then young Wade learns of a singer who looks and sounds a lot like him, Drexel Hemsley a young man who is making waves in the music industry singing rock and roll.
The obvious parallel between the two “Hemsley twins” and Elvis Presley and his twin that died at birth, is there almost from the first few frames of the film. The fancy car gliding down a dirt road surrounded by cotton fields screams the south in loud dusty tones. That is where Presley came from and was discovered after all.
The film also follows a similar parallel with the lead actor in his first starring role. Blake Rayne was an Elvis impersonation who entered a contest at his mother’s urging. Rayne won and his life changed irrevocably, just like Ryan Wade’s does in the film.
Rayne himself will make older members of the audience think of the actor George Reeves, who became a star playing Superman on the small screen from 1952 to 1958. The original TV superhero allegedly killed himself with a pistol in 1959, but that has been contested. While not the “spitting image” of Reeves, a lot of those watching the film felt that Rayne favored Elvis more, he has that massive face and huge square jawline that made Reeves so recognizable.
The storyline is based on a religious family’s trials and tribulations dealing with a teenage son who wants to sing rock and roll instead of follow his “dad” into the pulpit. It also chronicles Ryan’s journey, including his marriage to his childhood sweetheart played by Erin Cottrell.
In terms of acting and having an impressive cast The Identical features some pedigrees and performances that will not fail to impress. Ray Liotta plays against type and knocks it out of the park. Viewers should be warned that the Goodfellas actor will make the tears flow. This departure from Liotta’s usual typecasting should result in some hefty awards for this performer.
Ashley Judd does a brilliant turn as the devoted mother to her “wayward” son. The only annoying thing about Judd was the decision to age her very little, if at all, over the years that she and Liotta are a couple in the film.
Seth Green, perhaps the only actor in the film with the more credits than anyone, can still manage to convincingly play a teenager at the age of 40. Both Amanda Crew and Brian Geraghty do very well in their small but pivotal roles in the film, although again just like Judd, Crew’s old age makeup left a lot to be desired.
Erin Cottrell not only did a wonderful job as Jenny, the love interest, she also narrated the film and this voice over was spot on for what the film needed. It was also lovely to see character actor Joe Pantoliano, who has nearly as many credits to his name as Green, show up in the film. The Sopranos actor does his usual job of making his performance look like a walk in the park.
The film’s cinematography is crisp, clear and well lit, with the exception of the beginning which was shot in “black and white.” Sadly, the world seems to have lost the ability to properly film in that medium. The sets look very good however and the costumes are faithful to the time periods being portrayed.
As much as 2014 seems like the year of the feel good film, in terms of religious themed movies, The Identical delivers in a way that will bring tear to the most jaded of viewers. If not tears, at the very least a lump in the throat the size of Texas. The Identical opens countrywide on September 5, prepare to be moved and grooved.
By Michael Smith
Regal Village Square Stadium 18