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This film took me two days to decide whether I liked it or not. When
the final credits rolled, rather creatively at that, I couldn't figure
out if this was pure brilliance on the part of Richard Linklater, or if
it was nothing more than a group of friends trying to make an
independent film. I could not decide. I even listened to the audio
commentary of Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater to see if I could
capture their mood of the film to hopefully influence mine. While it
was a very interesting audio commentary, it only provided more
indecisiveness. After thinking about this for two days, I finally
thought about it long enough and realized that if a film makes you
think for two days after viewing, there has to be something spectacular
about it, and there was. After two days I was able to put my finger on
it. You had a very chilling story, a deeply disturbing confession, a
powerhouse of acting by Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman, and then
there was Ethan Hawke. I put him aside because it was his acting, his
portrayal of Vince that took away the inches of film that nearly made
it into perfection. Let me explain.
This is a story, that on the surface seems small, is very large in structure. While its only setting is inside a motel room, the written word by Stephen Belber transforms this into a thrilling drama about past lives and future consequences. From the opening scene of Hawke throwing his beers into the motel door until the final dramatic conclusion where Vince is caught up in the web of his own lies, we never really know anything about him. Leonard talks briefly about what he is doing and why he is currently single, but we never really get to know Ethan's character. This is what muddled in my mind for those two days, I continually had to ask myself who Vince really was. Was he a friend trying to help Leonard with a guilty conscious, or was he on the side of Amy trying to give her the conclusion that she wanted. Who knows? I think I needed more structure with Ethan's Vince. We needed more from Linklater to help us understand this self-appointed villain, or even more from Ethan to reveal his ultimate purpose. Instead, what occurred was Ethan just jumping around being annoying with no purpose except what you could hear Linklater telling him. Here is what I could hear: "Ok, Ethan, your purpose in this scene is to ensure that Leonard doesn't leave, do whatever it takes". Ethan takes this direction and adds a couple of swear words and uses screaming to keep him in the room instead of countering with more plot. Does this make sense? I felt like I knew why Leonard and Thurman were there in that room, but WHY Ethan was bringing them together was never told. I know that perhaps it was left up to the viewer, but this story needed a hint. It needed to provide some reasoning for the situation. I felt Ethan held us back from learning that. Someone else in the role may have done better, but Ethan just felt lost and stagy.
As I said before, Leonard and Thurman really carried this film on their shoulders. I was impressed to see Leonard taking such heavy work, but his true acting ability really came forth. The same goes for Uma who successfully took the idea of "husband and wife" away while working with Ethan. I was concerned that it would be a factor in Tape, but luckily these two were able to keep their characters separate. The chemistry that Leonard and Thurman had on screen was shattering. I found myself holding my breath during their parts from both emotion and the tension that they created. Outside of Ethan, they did a great job.
The story was a very tight story. I loved being brought into the middle of this controversy and seeing that a world can be created and destroyed in a hotel room. I thought that concept was a hard one to tackle, but Stephen Belber (who also wrote the play) did a fantastic job of eliminating the corporate element and giving us the pure human drama that exists between these characters. Linklater likewise really pulls this film together well by keeping the tensions high and elaborate as our characters progress through the phases of this predicament. The only trouble I had with Linklater's direction deals with his swirling camera. Whenever two people were talking to each other we found ourselves swirling between the two instead of using one large shot or quick cuts. I thought this was annoying at times, and quite dizzying. It detracted from the words that the actors were speaking and from the impact of the story. That is my only critique of Linklater's direction, which was nearly flawless.
Overall, this was an impressive and very intense drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat due to its strong reality and human element. It took me a while for me to realize this, and will probably take some time for it to sink into your mind, but that is the nature of this film. It is created to leave this lasting impression on your mind and to haunt your mind during your next visit with friends. I think Linklater did an excellent job with the material that he was handed, proving that his work could be compared to early Cameron Crowe material. Leonard and Thurman explode onto the scene, while Hawke leaves a bit more to be desired. I do believe that Linklater should have considered another actor for his role. Either way, this was a great film that took away the classic Hollywood backdrop and gave us nothing but 100% pure acting.
Grade: **** out of *****
"Tape" is not the best film of the year (in fact, it's not even director Richard Linklater's best film of the year), but it's a strong and intriguing movie experience all the same. Just three characters, one hotel room and a whole boiling pot of backstory. One could almost imagine Linklater, Hawke, Leonard (hey, isn't that Ethan Hawke's roommate 10 years ago in Dead Poet's Society?), and Thurman hanging out with a cool stage play and a DV camera and shooting the whole thing in one night. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing discardable or amateur about this film. But watch how the play, a simple story of old friends confronting old wounds, is transformed by the camera. The story is told in real time in a cramped room, but Linklater's over-cutting almost seems to extend time and space, creating a fully-realized world outside the hotel room walls without ever taking the camera outside. The performances are dead-on and suspense builds right under your nose. Rich and engaging.
Tape is a really smart movie. It debats the ideas of principles and perceptions as your own perception is constantly changed as the story (or should I say dialogue) unfolds. This movie is filled with layers just like it's characters (Ethan Hawk is incredibly funny b-t-w)and the ending adds a superb twist. Don't worry about the somewhat overly artsy camera angles in the beginning, you get used to it (and even start to enjoy it).
This movie comes from a seasoned director who, in the same year,
nonetheless, shot another movie which i would consider the best film of
2001. This one, also shot on digital cameras takes place in a dingy hotel
room and contains a cast of, count 'em, 1,2, THREE people, who are never
seen outside of the context of the dingy motel room. So, don't expect for
the scene to change. This film, based on a play, strives on realism, hence
no orchestral score, no unnecessary settings or extra characters, just three
fantastic actors dealing with issues. One (Hawke) is a volunteer
firefighter/ drug dealer who likes to, ahem, get excessively high off his
own supply. Another is his high school buddy,a budding young director whose
film is being screen in the Lansing, Michigan Film festival, whose apparent
maturity and superiority over his drug-binging pal and confidente is
deceptive. The final character, who arrives 2/3 of the way through the
movie is a former high school crush/ associate district attorney with
significantly surrogate emotional ties to both of the men.
The riveting conversations that evolve from somewhat sneeringly nostalgic to downright inhospitable fluidly move the film more actively than any number of action-packed popcorn flicks out there. In fact, you'll have no trouble getting over the fact that you're just watching 3 people talking in a room for 2 hours (I'll admit that that was a little intimidating at first). The film successfully lures us in with that inherent voyeurism that brought those first moviegoers into the transformed vaudeville theaters. As a passive observer, we become immersed in exactly that which should be none of our business, just like Hawke's character pulls himself into a situation that is none of his business. By the end, no clear resolution is reached and as compelling and intriguing as it all was, we feel guilty for looking through the peephole.
The moment the credits were finishing rolling on my rented VHS copy of TAPE last night, I immediately rewound it and watched the movie through til the end a second time. It's that good. With this experimental and brilliantly realized piece, Richard Linklater proves he's no 'slacker' but rather a cunning force to be reckoned with in the movie world. Based on a play which takes place in one room with only 3 characters, you will either love or hate this movie - it's an all-or-nothing proposition, plain and simple. I recommend you get your hands on it, get extremely, ahem, RELAXED and find out which category it falls in for you.
The concept, cinematically, of TAPE is the conceit that you are going to
keep three actors in a room talking for an hour and a half and that we are
going to stay interested. At the top we have a giddy and uncomfortable
Hawke who is awaiting the arrival of his friend Robert Sean Leonard. The
interaction between these two seems forced at the beginning...almost as if
the two actors know they are stuck in a room for awhile and they better
it interesting. But soon enough, one comes to realize that the
uncomfortability is due more to the estranged and uneveness of the two's
relationship more than anything else.
TAPE unfurls in an imrov-like environment (I was actually surprised this was a play in that I did think the actors imrovising)where theres overlapping, interruptions, belches and tangents...it leads you to believe you are on a banal ride of actor's without direction and slowly steers you towards and unexpected conclusion. Luckily, true to Linklater, this conclusion isn't of the gunshot variety( always the easy out when faced with the harder possibility of character epiphany of any sort)but rather of the more painful type of self-reflection and realization.
Hawke bumbles, preens and flounders all over the screen as Leonard expertly evades scrutiny...but the real revelation here is Thurman. For the first time since Beautiful Girls she is just -playing-a person. Doing so, she shines right through in her most powerful role to date. She arrives completely in her own skin and then, without much of any prestidigitation, uses that same humble demeanor to lance through the boys complete murk and bulls**t. For that reason alone this film merits viewing.
It's other virtue is in it's rambling force in which it arrives at an honest dissection of our own hipocrisy.
When it starts, Tape seems like a very unprofessional, student film and
I was expecting not to like it - but by the time it's reached it's
conclusion, Richard Linklater's talky little drama has hit all the
right notes and, despite the fact that this is simply three actors
spending 85 minutes in one location; Linklater has done what he did
with Before Sunrise, and proved that great dialogue is enough to make a
film great. Of course, he didn't write this film, and that honour goes
to Stephen Belber, whose play this film is based on. The dialogue
itself is brilliant, and it's constantly fascinating to see how the
characters are built up through what they say. Although we don't know
anything about these characters before the film starts, by the end we
know about them just through their dialogue, which shows the thought
that has been put into everything the characters say. The plot is
deliciously simple, which gives all of the characters room to expand
and interact with each other. Basically, what we have here is two high
school friends that meet up in a motel room for the first time in ten
years. While there, they discuss the darker areas of their time
together at school
Of course, for this film to work, good actors are a definite must have; and this film definitely has them! Ethan Hawke massively impressed in Linklater's Before Sunrise, and he does so again here, albeit in a totally different way. The character he has been given here is much harder to like than his one in Linklater's masterpiece, but Hawke shows his worth as an actor by brilliantly stepping into the role, and giving his character a definite grounding in realism. His co-stars, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman give similar portrayals, and the ensemble helps to make the film what it is. What makes films like Tape great is their ambiguity. Many of the things that the characters say can be interpreted in different ways, and most people will have different ideas as to why certain characters say certain things. The story behind the immediate goings on is well orchestrated, and even though nothing that the characters are talking about is shown; it's still easy to picture it. What happens in the hotel room is also very well executed, and the playwright has made sure that his story is never boring. Linklater's use of the camera is good, with the swirling angles creating a claustrophobic feel within the small confines of the hotel room. Tape is the sort of film that can be analysed in all different ways, and that gives it infinite rewatch value and when the material is this good; rewatching can only be a pleasure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Richard Linklater's new film, "Tape" is the most jarring film of his
The film takes place entirely in a hotel room in Michigan where the main
character, Vince, (played by Ethan Hawke),is downing two beers at once. He
is waiting for the arrival of his old friend, John, (Robert Sean Leonard),
an indie film-maker whose new film is playing at a local film-festival.
Vince's motivations for seeing John have less to do with seeing his friend again and more to do with confronting him about an incident which happened when they were younger. Apparently, back in their high school days, John raped a woman named Amy, (played by Uma Thurman). Amy was Vince's ex-girlfriend and someone whom both men are still infactuated with. However, the story is less about the somewhat ambiguous question over whether or not John raped Amy and more about these two characters and their lack of control over their lives. If any character in a Richard Linklater film can be described as a loser, it's Vince. He drinks beer, smokes pot and snorts coke throughout the entire movie. He is a drug-dealer who deludes himself that he also has a legitimate job, and therefore control over his life, as a volunteer fire-fighter. John, on the other hand, seemingly has more control over his life, but that's only because he deals with his shattered ego internally while Vince deals with it externally. John has a dream job - a young up and coming film director whose movie is playing at a film-festival. And yet, he is terribly dissatisfied with his life. He tells Vince that the film festival is only showing his film once in the afternoon and that it is only a small film-festival, anyway. One gets the feeling that the only reason why John hangs out with a guy like Vince is to feel secure in his own existence. He only seems relaxed wheh he tells Vince that he should get a life.
Two-thirds of the way through the movie, Amy herself makes an appearance in the hotel room. And it is then that we realize that all this time she has been merely a pawn in these mens' lives to allow them to feel they were in control of their own lives. Whether or not John raped Amy or merely had violent concentual sex with her, that situation was all about the self-conscious John feeling that he was controling someone else since he couldn't control his own life. And Vince's defence of Amy's honor has more to do with the fact that Amy never went all the way with him and John did. As it turns out Amy is the only one who has any control over her life. And, subsequently it is she who uses these two men as a kind of revenge at the way they have been using her. This is a very daring and extremely unconventional film which will have a hard time finding an audience. Certainly, it will not be for everyone. Visually, it is far different from any film Linklater has made in the past. In films like "Before Sunrise" and "SubUrbia", Linklater's camera was brilliantly unobtrusive, enabling us to quietly observe these charcters and what makes them tick, with Linklater never drawing attention to the camera. In "Tape", on the other hand, the viewer feels like a voyeur intruding on something that has nothing to do with them - the way Amy herself probably feels when watching these two men. And the camera is constantly drawing attention to itself to the point where it's actually distracting and even infuriating. If the sight of people talking in previous Linklater films felt inviting, this feels more like an uncomfortable situation you can't get out of.
Despite the fact that this film looks like it has been shot with a 500
dollar budget it is very worth while. Of course Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke
are somewhat famous actors, but they are not necessarily famous for their
great acting skills. Yet in this cheap production, that has no tricks
whatsoever to distract you from bad performances both are able to stand
tall, as is Rovert Sean Leonard. Sure the film takes a bit getting used to,
especially in the beginning when the actors have almost nothing to work
with, but in the end the actors are what carries the film and they do so in
a grandiose fashion. Some part of the credit has to go to the great dialog
as well though, since the words that are spoken are able to grab you by the
throat and keep you interested in figuring out what truth lies behind the
talk. Nothing Linklater did was too spectacular, so I am sure any director
could have pulled this one, but since Linklater was the one I must give him
credit (and the rest of the cast and crew) for making such a good
8 out of 10
Shot on DV in one night at 'Tape' makes the viewer feel like a voyeur
peeking into a motel room. It's set in a motel room where two friends
reunite after 10 years (ironically Hawke and Leonard also appear
together on screen more than a decade after their last film 'Dead
Poet's Society') and have a private conversation that turns from the
common catching up to unravelling secrets.
The entire movie is pretty much a conversation but it is a layered film with layered characters. The writing is brilliant. The editing it very tight. As the events unfold with clever twists, it becomes an intense human drama and a thrilling experience for the audience. While we are provided with sufficient background information on Amy and Jon, Vince remains somewhat of a mystery. His intentions remain for the viewer to interpret as there are hints that point in different directions. The hand-held camera mostly acts as hidden camera that lures the viewer to look into a private moment of these three character's lives. The swirling camera actually acts like a person itself, who's just sitting there while no one is aware of its presence. Once Linklater builds the tension, he sustains it and keeps the viewer engaged right through the end.
Being a conversational piece, it relies strongly on acting. The performances are solid. Ethan Hawke does a fine job of the (drug-induced) hyper but manipulative Vince. His character may be a bit ambiguous but he plays the part to the T. Robert Sean Leonard is adequate but in some places he seems a little lost. However, after Uma Thurman's entry, he is remarkable. Uma Thurman looks sensational with simple makeup. This is one actress who can look very plain when needed and supersexy when required. Her acting is excellent as she puts the pieces together while cleverly blindfolding the audience allowing them to figure out what happened.
While some people may feel confused at the end, it is very thought-provoking movie as one would try to figure out the puzzle. On the whole, 'Tape' takes us into a different territory that only a few Hollywood films have done. It has some great performances, good direction, brilliant writing and will very likely keep you glued to the screen.
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