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TAPE (director: Richard Linklater; screenwriter: from a play by Stephen Belber/Mr. Belber; cinematographer: Maryse Alberti; editor: Sandra Adair; cast: Ethan Hawke (Vince), Uma Thurman (Amy Randall), Robert Sean Leonard (John Salter); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Alexis Alexanian/John Sloss/Anne Walker-McBay/Gary Winick; Lions Gate Films; 2001)
“The actors do justice to this potent and insightful script, filling the screen with explosive energy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Richard Linklater’s (Slacker/Waking Life/Dazed and Confused) edgy chamber drama Tape, is based on the three-character play by Stephen Belber. It’s a talky dramatization shot in real-time and photographed with a handheld camcorder by both Linklater and Maryse Alberti, who capture the film’s claustrophobic setting in a grainy but intimate manner on digital video. The filmmaker succinctly points out that objective reality is only subjective, as it follows the Rashomon-like theme of trying to tell who is telling the truth. There’s also Brenda Lee’s telling song at the film’s conclusion: “I’m Sorry I Was Such A Fool.”

Two supposedly close friends from their high school days, Vince (Ethan Hawke) and John Salter (Robert Sean Leonard), who have kept in touch since graduating ten years ago, meet in Vince’s motel room in Lansing, Michigan. Vince is a slacker, small time drug dealer, and a volunteer fireman in Oakland (I thought they had a professional fire department!), who has come to Lansing to help support his friend on what might be the most important weekend in his life. John is a smug, pretentious, aspiring filmmaker, who shot a film in the Lansing Film Festival. He’s hoping this will be his big break, and has invited Vince and his girlfriend to attend the one-time film screening. Vince is alone and informs John that his girlfriend for the last three years has left him because of his violent tendencies and reckless behavior. John, in a superior tone, lectures the beer guzzling and still immature friend. He tells him to get his life together, that he’s no longer a kid at 28.

As the sharp conversation between the two becomes more heated, it appears Vince is on a downward spiral and the better dressed and more polished John is heading upward. But it soon becomes apparent that Vince had other reasons for seeing John than what he lets on. He’s still troubled about what happened to the love of his life, his old high school girlfriend Amy Randall (Uma Thurman), who broke up with him because she had a crush on John. Vince is trying to get clear in his jealous mind about an incident that happened one night, after he already had broken up with Amy, where John said he had sex with Amy when he was drunk at a party. What strikes Vince as odd, is that he never saw Amy after that. Vince believes a date rape occurred and tries to get his friend to tell him exactly what happened. Vince is seething inside because he went out a long time with Amy and they never had sex, even though it was Amy’s first relationship and he wanted so much to make love to her.

To loosen the stiff John up, Vince induces him to smoke pot. And, after much badgering and questioning of John’s version, much like a prosecutor, John states that he coerced her verbally into having sex. The manic Vince then gets the awkwardly apologetic filmmaker to say he held her down and raped her. To John’s astonishment he gets this confession on tape, which he threatens to give to Amy unless John apologizes to her. Vince also tells him that Amy is working in her Michigan college town as an assistant district attorney; and, even though, he hasn’t seen her for five years, he has invited her to the motel. Amy enters the motel room at the film’s 50-minute mark, and the three high school friends are confronted with facing up to their past. The self-composed Amy and the chagrined John have different reasons and interpretations about what may–or may not–have happened, as the small-minded but crafty Vince massages his own feelings and tries to understand what each of them is saying that satisfies his own point of view.

The three actors do a marvelous job of working together and conveying their passions, hurts, and sense of being. They do this despite none of them being particularly sympathetic figures. Linklater’s film is much in the same vein as what filmmakers and playwrights Mamet and LaBute are regularly doing, creating intelligent scenarios for adult audiences. The actors do justice to this potent and insightful script, filling the screen with explosive energy.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”