Tape


Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by:Stephen Belber
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
Released: June 26, 2003
Grade: A-

Tape is distinctive in that there are only three cast members and the entire film is set in a small hotel room.  At times, some of the cast enter and exit through the only door but the camera does not follow them.  Despite these visual limitations, the film is more interesting than most.

It begins with Vince (Hawke) silently passing time in his hotel room by sculling a few beers.  Jon (Leonard) then arrives and the two embrace.  Vince and Jon were best friends at school but ten years has passed and they now live different lives.  Both are Michigan to catch up on old times and to celebrate a defining moment in Jon’s career.  A budding filmmaker, Jon’s first major film is to screen at the local film festival tomorrow afternoon.

Vince is a drug dealer who passes himself off as a volunteer fire-fighter in California.  After the initial pleasantries, Jon does what comes naturally and suggests to Vince, as his friend, that it’s time to find a new line of work.  This sets of a carefully planned chain of events for Vince that lead to the unexpected developments and the ultimate conclusion.  Reflecting back, I have doubts as to whether Vince could have planned the next hour with the precision he does but it is a minor criticism.

Defensive of Jon’s criticism, Vince turns the table on Jon by recalling a fateful night in their final year at high school.  Vince dated sweetheart Amy Randall (Thurman) but the two broke up just prior to graduation.  Jon then had a one-night stand with Amy which surprised Vince since he and Amy never slept together during their full relationship.  Vince always suspected Jon raped Amy but nothing was ever said.  Now, Vince wants the answers and is willing to risk his friendships to uncover the truth…

The history of director Richard Linklater’s shows a man with great creativity.  In 1993, he made crazy drug comedy Dazed And Confused which seems to get better with age.  It’s a film Entertainment Weekly rated in the top 20 cult films of all time.  His last work was the trippy animation flick Waking Life that left critics in awe of its complexity and originality.  Trivia fans will be interested by the fact that Tape marks the fourth time star Ethan Hawke has starred in a Linklater film. 

Tape has been shot with only two simple hand-held camcorders and thanks to seamless editing by Sandra Adair, it looks like one continuous take.  I am unsure the screenwriter’s intentions as varying interpretations exist as to the “goodness” presented in each of the characters.  In my eyes, Vince acts insanely and Jon is very harshly treated but others may share a differing opinion.  I won’t ramble on with a detailed analysis as it may influence your own objectivity.

Beginning it’s life as a play, the cinematic equivalent of Tape was released in the United States over 18 months ago  It has since done its run on the film festival circuit with major showings at Sundance and Toronto.  The small cast, budget and release are in no way correlated to the film’s success.  Like good dinner conversation, it is always interesting.