Tape (2001): Linklater’s Claustrophobic Tale Starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman

The performances are captivating in Richard Linklater’s filmed theater piece, “Tape,” a tale that mixes sex, lies, and videotape-like quirks (to borrow from the title of Soderbergh’s stunning debut) with some twists and turns.

Expectedly claustrophobic, the story is set within the spatial confines of a tawdry motor lodge in Lansing, Michigan, in whch three old friends come together to play out the unresolved drama of their final days in high school.

Robert Sean Leonard plays Johnny, a first-time filmmaker who’s is in Michigan to present his film at a local festival. A volunteer firefighter and small-time drug dealer, Vince (Ethan Hawke, a regular in Linklater’s company and often his alter-ego?, arrives to support Johnny on his big day, or so it appears on the surface. Indeed, after their initial greetings, an undercurrent of tension remains.

Gradually, it becomes clear that Vince still resents what he sees as John having stolen his girlfriend, Amy (Uma Thurman, then Hawke’s real-life wife), years ago. As the two men debate and fight, more serious accusations and moral concerns come to the front.

The film might have been influenced by the Danish theory of Dogme in its focus on the raw essentials of narrative and characterization, disregarding many conventional codes of Classic Hollywood Cinema.

The single, drab interior, shot on HD video, is understandably limiting, which might have been the challenge Linklater was seeking, but always a sharp director, he makes the most of the thematic and physical constraints, coaxing in the process strong performances from his trio of thespians in tough and demanding roles.

Robert Sean Leonard and Hawke had previously teamed together in the touching school melodrama, “Dead Poets Society.”

MPAA: R.

Running time: 84 minutes.

Directed by Richard Linklatter

Written  by Stephen Belber

Released by Lions Gate, November 16, 2001

DVD: April 16, 2002