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TAPE
Reviewed June 4th, 2002 by David Nusair

 

Tape is one of those movies itís impossible to talk about without divulging various secrets found within, so, you know, spoilers ahoy.

The primary reason for that is because itís based on a one-act play, set entirely in one room and consisting of just three characters. Hard to believe that a movie containing only dialogue could be so entertaining, but when the writing is this good and the acting even better, itís hard to complain.

As the movie opens, we meet Vince (played by Ethan Hawke), a 20-something slacker type whoís waiting in a cramped motel room for John (Robert Sean Leonard) Ė his high school buddy. Vince is a slacker in every sense of the word: heís unkempt and disheveled, drinks too much and does drugs, and (as we later discover) makes his money dealing. John, on the other hand, is pretty much Vinceís polar opposite: Heís clean shaven, doesnít appear to do drugs anymore, and is working towards becoming a filmmaker (heís in town showing his movie at a festival). Itís easy to imagine these two friends having a lot in common in high school, but obviously, only John has moved on with his life since then. Their initial conversation is of the ďletís catch upĒ sort, but soon moves onto a more serious topic. It turns out both men dated the same girl in high school, a person named Amy, and Vince now wants to know whether or not John raped her. An admission follows, as does the introduction of the grown-up Amy (played by Uma Thurman), and the remainder of the film becomes a series of revelations and accusations among the three.

Tape has been directed (but not written) by Richard Linklater, known primarily for movies featuring an abundance of dialogue. Heís chosen to use digital video rather than celluloid, and in this case, it works. Most movies that use this cheaper-than-dirt format (most notably the overrated Chuck and Buck) invariably end up about as entertaining as a school play. But it works here, giving the material (pardon the overused clichť) immediacy, while forcing the audience to confront the characters in a more direct fashion (and even allowing us the somewhat unpleasant sensation of being trapped in that room with them).

But no matter how good the script is, it would have been worthless without some really spectacular acting backing it up. Leading the cast is Ethan Hawke, last seen losing the Oscar to Jim Broadbent. And while he was quite good in Training Day Ė the film he was nominated for Ė heís far better here. Vince is reminiscent of Hawkeís character in Reality Bites, except this guy has to down a shot of whiskey just to get going in the morning. Heís a slacker all right; the sort of character Hawke could probably play in his sleep. But instead, Hawke produces what is probably his best (and most versatile) performance to date. Vince veers between hyperactivity and resolute calm within seconds, and Hawke perfectly captures the restless nature of this character. Robert Sean Leonard, taking the far less flashy role (just as Hawke himself did in Training Day), is just as good as the seemingly normal guy with a terrible secret. And Uma Thurman, when she finally shows up, finally gets the chance to play a normal person (albeit one with a lot of hatred and spite within her). After years of playing blind women, vacuous beauties and dolled-up courtesans, this just may be the most contemporary character sheís ever played. Sheís very good here, and a fine addition to the cast.

What really makes Tape worth watching (not to mention so entertaining, given the fact that itís essentially plotless) is the script. Unlike some other filmed plays, this one contains dialogue that sounds realistic. It never sounds forced or stagy; rather, itís easy enough to imagine that these are real folks. One thing that may be a little jarring is the ambiguous nature of the screenplay. By the time the end rolls around, weíre left in the dark as to what actually happened that fateful day in high school. And while that lack of a definitive conclusion may be a touch pretentious, itís worth noting that not every movie should have a finite ending. Tape begs repeat viewings and lengthy discussions.

If youíre a fan of either Richard Linklater or any of the cast members, be sure to check out Tape.

Audio: Tape is presented with a DD 2.0 soundtrack and itís sufficient. Not only are there no ambient sounds, thereís not even any music until the end credits. So, the only purpose of this track is to accurately bring us the ample dialogue. And while it does occasionally sound a little muffled (most likely a limitation of the low budget), it gets the job done.

Video: The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer fares slightly better, though it is unusual that they didnít go directly to the source. What that means is that, unlike something like Toy Story, Tapeís transfer comes from a filmed copy and not the digital source (like the Blair Witch Project transfer). Otherwise, itís a very good transfer, with little film-related artifacts popping up. The whole thing looks washed out and dull, but I suppose that was the point.

Extras: The only extra here is a commentary track featuring Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke, but itís a good one. Theyíve been recorded separately, with Linklater dominating the majority of the track. Though soft-spoken, Linklater proves to be a very interesting and (more importantly) chatty guy. He talks about pretty much every imaginable facet of the production, from an early idea of making the film one long shot to working with just three actors. Hawkeís comments are mostly limited to his approach as an actor and his joy at working with longtime friend Leonard and wife Thurman, but this is Linklaterís track anyway.

Conclusion: Far more intelligent than most movies, Tape is certainly worth a rental.

 

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