Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Two men in a motel bedroom, talk about something that happened 10 years ago, when they were high school seniors. It is claustrophobic. The camera is in their faces. The room gives nothing back, characterless. There is no escape from the words. They are talking about John and Amy, when they got together at the end of summer, after a party, and had sex. "Was it aggressively playful?" Vince asks. "Rough," John says. "Rape?" Vince goads. "No, rough," John says.

John is a filmmaker. He's in Lancing, Michigan, at an independent movie festival to show his debut feature. Vince lives in Oakland, California, and has come over to support him. He deals drugs. That's his job. John has changed, he's more serious now, more thoughtful. Vince is still wild and unpredictable. "You get stranger every year," John says. Vince smiles, taking it as a compliment. Beneath the buddy buddy bonhomie lies a deeper pain. Vince smells revenge, rolls a joint, gulps a couple of cans, snorts a line of coke. He's ready. He knows Amy is going to ring. He's set it up.

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Stephen Belber's script, based on his play, demonstrates a quality of writing rarely touched upon in the cinema. Movies demand action and space and the wide, wide world, not the subtle manipulation of memory and guilt. Richard Linklater directs with admirable honesty, using a single hand-held camera. He never leaves the room. Amy arrives, they talk more, the pain spreads. Vince was Amy's boyfriend at high school, but they never slept together. She calls him, "my first love," as if the feelings have fossilised. She's assistant to the local DA. She has a proper job. She's grown.

The fascination of Tape is in the performances and with the language, how words dance around truth, mocking it. Ethan Hawke, as Vince, captures the dysfunctional aspect of a man gone rancid from failure and yet cunning as a rat in his ability to confuse argument. Robert Sean Leonard, as John, perfectly conveys an uncertainty and disbelief at what appears to be happening to him, as Vince slowly poisons his resolve and leaves him weakened. Uma Thurman, as Amy, has unexpected poise, which hints at a steely intelligence.

The film is a talkie. It opens wounds. Dialogue is used as a weapon to parry and thrust. It is not what they say, but what lies behind what they say. As an exercise in verbal fencing, this is an exhibition match.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2002
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A filmmaker is forced by an old friend to face his past in this entertaining psychological one-room drama.
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Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Stephen Belber, based on the play by Stephen Belber

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

Year: 2001

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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