March 27th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Starring: Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Auteur and darling of the indie set Richard Linklater returns with a very small and simple movie that adds up to far greater than the sum of its parts.

In what can only be described as a character study, every Hollywood convention is jettisoned. There are no special effects, no locations or extras (the film features only three actors in a single room), and no scheduling (it was shot entirely in sequence on DV over 6 days).

What we get instead are three interesting and completely distinct characters, all with their own points of view, agendas, and relationships to each other — what human life is really about.

John (Leonard) is an up and coming filmmaker with valued ideals. Vince (Hawke) is a slob and small time drug dealer. Amy (Thurman) is a local assistant DA.

They come together after a long absence in a scrabby motel room in the small town where they grew up. After the two men greet and catch up, tension starts to blister, and soon pours out of the screen in a river — at times, you’ll be squirming uncomfortably in your seat.

As it turns out, they share a simmering resentment despite their friendship — all over what happened with Amy at the end of high school. Accusations are made, denied and interpreted time and again as the two argue it out — then Amy arrives to stir the pot even more.

The performances are top notch by all three actors — Hawke is delightfully delirious and gets the film’s (many) funny lines. Tape tells a realistic story about how — as individuals — we each remember things differently, how we interpret them, and how anger can fester in the spirit for a long time.

Don’t expect any UFO conspiracies or dark histories as hired killers to emerge — it’s about nothing so exciting. The crux of the matter is (while far from unimportant), so everyday it’s a wonder anyone thought to make a movie about it at all.

What Linklater (and screenwriter Stephen Belber — who based the script on his play) does is extract a stark, honest portrayal of human emotion and its frequent downfall.

Like more and more movies hitting the screens in recent years, Tape is proof of what you can do with a camera, good acting and a great story. Linklater reinforces the notion that a film director is an artist instead of a special effects manager-for-hire for huge studio-budget blockbusters.

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