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    The taped crusaders

    Three characters wage a psychological war over their intertwined past and a taped conversation in the masterfully intense "Tape" by playwright Stephen Belber and directed by Richard Linklater.


    Sometimes you can spot a great movie a mile away.

    Directed by: Richard Linklater.
    Written by: Stephen Belber.
    Cast: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    I mean, how can you possibly stick Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman in a grungy motel room for 86 minutes and not expect greatness?

    Well, some might consider great to be too strong a word for this highly competent adaptation of the original three-character play by Stephen Belber (author of "The Laramie Project" and "Finally," but "Tape" is terrific stuff. It's talky but not, surprisingly, stagy, and it offers up wonderful performances from its three leads (even Leonard, whom I've never much cared for before). Leonard (whom you might still remember from "Dead Poets Society"), it turns out, more than holds his own against Hawke, who plays a pot-smoking, beer-guzzling, coke-sniffing loser, and Thurman, playing said loser's former high school girlfriend.

    But there's more to this triangle, this love triangle, than that, as Belber's dynamic dialogue, and "Slacker" director Richard Linklater's claustrophobic camerawork, draw us in.

    The film was shot on digital video over a one-week period in New York City following a month of rehearsals, so the result is a grainy, rough-and-ready affair in which the low light and even lower budget enhance the drama one hundredfold. Vince (Hawke), a volunteer firefighter and small-time drug dealer is in town (Lansing, Michigan) to hook up with his high school buddy Jon (Leonard) who's also in town for a local film festival where his directorial debut is premiering. After a few beers and some typically macho exchanges, the tone turns darker as Vince brings up the subject of Amy (Thurman). Formerly Vince's girlfriend, Amy had a fling with Jon on the last day of school and it soon becomes clear that Vince's sole reason for inviting his best friend over is to coax a confession out of him, a confession that winds up on audio tape (hence the title). To make matters worse, not only is Amy in town (she's Lansing's assistant D.A. these days) but Vince has asked her over too with the intent of having her be on the receiving end of Jon's disturbing admission.

    The verbal sparring between the leads is fast and credible; Hawke and Leonard are equally adept at playing frustration off aggression, and vice-versa. The motel room setting — the camera never once ventures outdoors — is never stifling nor constricting, except when it needs to be. Linklater, who made the still-in-theaters "Waking Life" (another talky piece but one of completely different dimensions), skillfully shoots his drama in such a way that the film never feels static; the piece progresses naturally, earnestly, and when questions come into play, there's a real sense of disquiet about it all, as notions of friendship — and what constitutes coercion — are brought to the fore. It twists and turns beautifully.

    Thurman isn't in the film as much as her male co-stars, but by the time she makes her graceful entrance we've learned so much about her, and her situation from ten years ago, that one gesture, one seemingly innocent "Hello Jon" is laced with portent.

    "Tape" just goes to prove what a talented filmmaker can do with limited resources if his words are good and his performers are good and his overall vision is, well, great. If you miss this one in theaters, grab a Rolling Rock, strip down to your boxers, and watch this one on tape.

    DECEMBER 4, 2001

    Reader comments on Tape:

  • Tape   from dorothea, Jul 24, 2002
  • Re: Tape dont read if u haven't seen it   from kellbelle, Aug 12, 2003

  • Post a comment on "Tape"