Tape is a 2001 MTV movie starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. It looks cheap, feels cheap and it is cheap. However, it is amazing what a good script can do. The story is set in one hotel room where two old friends discuss their lives leading to some pretty unexpected events. With just a few elements, this movie demonstrates that you don’t need fancy sets, explosions, and other shit to engage your viewers. You need great characters, actors, and one hell of a story.
Tape is pretty slow but once it gets you, it does not let you go. The running time is just under eighty minutes, prompting you to give this little movie a chance. I guarantee it will feel refreshing after all those big productions you must’ve been watching. And the performances are simply stellar. I knew that Ethan Hawke was great but Robert Sean Leonard knocked it out of the park giving a memorable performance. The same goes for the mysterious and charming Uma Thurman.
I loved that the movie is taking place in a single non-descript sleazy motel room. And that everything is happening almost in real-time. All of this creates an uneasy but highly engaging atmosphere. Add to this a story you cannot tell where is going and you got yourself one hell of a movie. This simple and straightforward approach to filmmaking reminded me of Dogme 95 movement. The best example of this rather peculiar style is the Danish masterpiece Festen.
In Lansing, Michigan, two old friends are about to rekindle their friendship. They are meeting in a hotel room and the thing that brought them together is one documentary movie. Jon is making them now and his friend from high school Vince is there to support him. Unlike Jon, Vince is a drug dealer that sometimes works as a volunteer firefighter. The two reminisce joyfully, right up until the name Amy was mentioned. And that name will change everything…
As you probably guessed, Tape is based on a play written by Stephen Belber. You will immediately notice that the dialogue is realistic and engaging, slowly pulling you in. Of course, you can also count on a couple of wild twists. Something else you can probably guess is that things are not how they seem. The character development is flawless and natural. In fact, it’s so good that you might recognize yourself or someone you know in our three characters.
And is it just me or does the real shit starts to happen once they smoke a little weed? Something the director Richard Linklater should be familiar with as he’s the guy behind the cult classic Dazed and Confused. He also positions the camera in such a way we, the viewers, feel like voyeurs. We’re existing in this surreal state witnessing an increasingly complex series of events in the lives of other people.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Stephen Belber
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
Fun Stuff: The movie was not filmed in an actual motel room but on a carefully constructed set.