Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Stephen Belber. Starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman.
Two high school buddies reunite in a dingy motel room, ten years after graduation. Vince (Hawke) has become a small-time drug dealer while Jon (Leonard) is in town to promote his first movie at a local film festival. After initial boisterous greetings, the banter gradually loses its friendliness and unresolved tensions start to creep to the fore.
Shot on digital video in a single location, 'Tape' is an edgy, claustrophobic piece of work about the objective nature of personal recollection and the inescapable impact of the past on the present. As the dialogue progresses, a volatile Vince gradually becomes openly hostile and an explicit power struggle ensues. Conflicting accounts of a sexual encounter at a party a decade earlier form the heart of the drama.
Exploring the long-term friendship between two very different men, 'Tape' touches on such areas as male bonding and self-expression. The conflict, explicitly articulated as a mutual judgement on chosen lifestyles, reveals itself to be significantly more complex. A tight, well-paced, script cleverly manages to challenge audience expectations regarding character along the way.
In a tale centred on notions of masculinity, vulnerability emerges as the predominant theme. The fragility, not to mention malleability, of personal identity as well as the tenuous links that bind people together are meticulously conveyed. By the time a woman (Thurman) appears on the scene, an increasingly sinister game of manipulation is in full swing. The tape of the title comes to symbolise all that is the opposite of trust in human nature.
As a cinematic experiment, 'Tape' is most effective in terms of its acting. The tiny Hollywood cast skilfully handles the real time performance and visibly revels in dramatic opportunities provided by the long takes. However, Linklater is less ambitious with regard to form, resulting in a movie that frequently betrays its stage play origins, operating as a piece of filmed theatre. Toying with some of the principles of the Dogma school but essentially more notable for its thematic concerns, this is engaging, but hardly ground-breaking, stuff.