Ten years after establishing himself as one of the most distinctive voices in independent American cinema with Slacker, Richard Linklater directed two very different movies that consolidate his reputation for innovation. The experimental Waking Life (shown in the last IFC programme) combined a new form of animation with the free-flowing philosophical musings of Slacker. With Tape, Linklater has tackled a one-act play whose claustrophobic setting is a small motel room, where three former college pals are reunited and confront a dark episode from the past. It’s the kind of ‘theatre on film’ piece that rarely works, but Linklater has succeeded where so many other filmmakers have failed.
That success is due in large part to a trio of excellent actors (Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman), but the piece is also enlivened by the director’s telling use of the flexibility and intimacy that’s possible when filming with small digital cameras. Getting close to his actors, who embody their characters without any showy theatrics, Linklater cuts right to the heart of Stephen Belber’s play, which explores the façades people construct to hide true feelings and unpleasant realities.
In another excellent turn for Linklater, Hawke excels as Vince, an impulsive thirty-something drug dealer who arranges to meet his old friend John (Leonard), ostensibly to celebrate the latter’s success as a tyro filmmaker. However, as they crack open beer cans and reminisce, it soon becomes clear that Vince has more sinister motives. Secretly taping their conversation, he forces John to confess to committing what amounts to a date rape, and then arranges for a confrontation with the victim. It would be wrong to reveal any more of the plot, but the tables are turned more than once as the trio tear into each other’s motivations in this remarkable character study. Ralph West. U.S.A., 2001. Colour. Dolby stereo. 86 mins.