One of my favorite, and possibly one of the most under rated directors of our time Richard Linklater continues to top himself. There’s not many directors these days that show they have both style (ala Dazed and Confused, School of Rock), and substance (Waking Life) at their disposal. Linklater can dispense both these traits in either film he chooses and often times it successful. He released this right off of the tail coats of “Waking Life” which was equally as brilliant. Based on the play by Stephen Belber, the film instantly begins with a very authentic and realistic disposition. The film and story relies heavily, and almost completely on human characteristics and mannerisms.
And the film also relies on isolation of the characters within the confines of this small hotel room which seems like there is no possible escape as did my favorite film of all-time “12 Angry Men”. I think because this film is practically identical with it’s device of isolation and conversation that I took a liking to “Tape”. It will take a while for audiences to warm up to the actual purpose of the film; the entire film relies on dialogue to move the story along and leaves action as a second preference. Some of the conversation seems to become very droning at times and will undoubtedly leave some audiences restless and impatient. Vince in the beginning is performing a ritual which is evident as he chugs a can of beer and pours another down the drain and proceeds to do it again. Then he takes off his clothes stripping down to his boxers and begins exercising; why this is, we’re never informed of. Then Jon enters the room; the two are old friends from high school, but they don’t look it.
They’re complete opposites and Jon looks instantly uncomfortable and reluctant to talk to Vince when they’re preparing to leave. Right away, Vince begins pressuring Jon to engage in drinking and drug use, though it may look like just regular partying in this character’s mind as he pressures Jon, a straight-laced man on appearance, we never wonder if Vince may be alluding to something in particular until he begins talking and almost arguing about a fling Jon had with Vince’s ex-girlfriend Amy in high school. Soon, they begin to banter back and forth like it’s a court case and Vince reveals he’s taped their conversation which he’s recorded Jon admitting he may have raped Amy. The conversation often will escalate into an argument then back into rapid fire banter led by Vince who plays upon Jon’s anxiety for his own cruel purposes. Though Vince comes off as dumb and idiotic, it becomes clear by the middle that he’s not what the audience has pre-perceived him to be.
Immediately we begin to wonder Vince’s true intentions with attempting to expose Vince to Amy. Often times during Vince and Jon’s conversations within the room Vince hints at Jon about his grudge with Jon and Amy’s relationship. Even though at most times he claims and insists his taping of their conversation was simply virtuous, and he just wanted to help Amy, but the characters know better, and so do we. We begin to wonder otherwise as he becomes so eager to watch Jon crumble under guilt when confronting Amy and looks rather pleased, and even when Jon wants to talk to Amy alone, Vince won’t budge from the room. That’s what’s so pleasing is the fact that the exit is plainly staring the audience in the face, though any of the characters can leave the room at any minute they never do. Even Jon rather than leaving the room once Amy is on her way to the room, he chooses to hide in the bathroom. The film begins to question an interesting notion on how an occurrence of events can be perceived differently through different person’s eyes.
Vince attempts to get Jon to admit he’d raped Amy, and though Jon doesn’t think he did but almost admitted it, he continues to feel guilty and half-heartedly says he may have, then when Amy enters the story, she denies there ever being a rape and even begins mocking Jon which makes him questionably angry. All the while, the audience is curious as to what actually happened on the night involving Jon and Amy though we will never get to see what occurred. Steve Belber teases the audience into believing one explanation then hinting that another explanation may be the truthful one in fact. Linklater’s great directing style with his digital camera helps the story device with the constant teasing and makes the three characters’ situation all the more realistic.
Constantly, the camera pans back and forth during conversations between characters and cuts skillfully to their reactions and expressions. The dialogue is often fresh and crisp accompanied by great performances by Robert Sean Leonard who pulls off the inept and often reluctant character Jon, Uma Thurman gives a great emotional performance as Amy and even manages to get her own sly revenge in the closer, and Ethan Hawke manages to chew the scenery stealing almost every scene from the other characters with his enthusiastic and sleazy character. Though it does tend to get bogged down by the droning conversations at the start, this is such an fascinating and engrossing character study with strong performances from the cast, powerful intricate writing, and great directing by Richard Linklater.