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Vince (Ethan Hawke) is in his motel room in Lansing, Michingan, on the eve of a film festival where his high school friend Jon (Robert Sean Leonard) is screening his film. The reunion turns from high fives to deep sixes as Vince reveals his resentment at Jon for Jon’s one night stand with Amy (Uma Thurman) 10 years earlier as high school ended, right after Jon had broken up with Amy. But what begins as semi-friendly ribbing soon turns deeply serious as Vince goads Jon into a confession of date rape. And secretly tapes the confession. The misshapen memory of those days affects the participants in different ways – even Amy, now the Lansing Assistant DA, who turns up and turns the tables on both of the men. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Tape is a perfect example of how digital filmmaking can deliver great cinematic values. Adapted from the one act stage play, this film takes place in real time, and plays as one single scene. This is a challenge for all concerned, but perfect for the digital age. The busy-ness of the camerawork here is not only valid but a genuine cinematic tool, balancing out the claustrophobia of a single motel room that is the setting for the entire film. But the most important element is the writing, which pulses with recognisable truths and avoids judgement so deftly it’s like a matador dancing with death in the bullring. Twisting and turning in almost every second phrase, Stephen Berber’s exceptional wordplay reminds me a bit of David Mamet with his ability to weave a web of conceits that bind us and fool us and seem absolutely true, compelling, darkly humourous and dramatic all at once. Ethan Hawke, who championed the idea of adapting the play for the screen, is spectacular as Vincent, probably because it’s a wild ride and so totally different to anything I’ve seen him do. Robert Sean Leonard is equally impressive as the seemingly cool filmmaker with a life all gathered about him, while Vince’s is frayed and tatty. But how our perceptions are changed! Enter Uma Thurman as Amy, and just when we thought we had the ground pegged, she upends the scenario, with a taut, controlled and jaw dropping performance. Director Richard Linklater, whose first DV film was the memorable, powerful animated feature, Waking Life, has proved he can deliver live action with even more power. He teases out the contemporary fascination with ‘apology’ at the same time as exploring guilt, friendship, male bonds, social prejudices and love. Clearly, everyone involved relished this script and gave it their best shot – and it’s a bullseye. And, you see, it’s explosive without violence. Nobody gets shot.

Review by Louise Keller:

In what can be defined as ‘fly on the wall’ cinema, Tape is a riveting and at times mesmerising exploration of friendship, relationships and perceptions. ‘I’m sorry’ wails Brenda Lee’s husky voice as the closing credits roll: ‘Love is blind and I was too blind to see…’ But between the striking, edgy opening credits and those pensive, reflective musical tones, we embark on a gruelling journey where emotions are the ports of call. Tape begins by letting us into Vince’s private space. He is relaxing in his downmarket motel room in his boxers, enjoying a ritual of drinking beer from the can, while emptying another down the bathroom sink. The camera follows the action – the discarded empty can on the floor, the boots that have been flung carelessly on the carpet. With differing points of view as he does his push ups, with socked feet on the bedside table and hands on the floor, we get an assortment of perspectives. But the perspectives become far more interesting and telling, as Vince’s best buddy Johnny comes by and innocent chit chat becomes more and more intense as they share a joint and the conversation leads into areas that are increasingly revealing. In the crucial parts of the conversation, as Vince quizzes Johnny on his sexual misdemeanour some 10 years prior, the camera pans back and forth, exaggerating the tension. This is the beginning of the manipulation of emotions, which reaches its peak as uncomfortable, personal issues are canvassed. By the time Amy arrives, you could slice the air with a knife. And as three people’s emotions are aired, we feel as though we are eavesdropping on their private conversation. Shot in sequence on digital video and over six days, Tape offers all the challenges of experimental, improvised filmmaking. The script (from a stage play) is sharp and truthful. Is it all about different perceptions? Is it about truth or is it about having the last word? Is it about paying the price or is this really about ego and pride? Superb performances by all three actors make Tape a thought provoking, exciting work that manages to create as much tension from everyday issues, as could be expected by a psycho thriller. It’s gutsy and honest cinematic approach strips emotions bare and brings issues down to their very core. The revelations are breathtaking and devastatingly revealing.

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TAPE (M15+)

CAST: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

PRODUCER: Alexis Alexanian, Anne Walker-McBay, Gary Winick

DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater

SCRIPT: Stephen Belber


EDITOR: Sandra Adair

MUSIC: n/a


RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: March 20, 2003; Melbourne: March 27, 2003 Melbourne; other cities to follow

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