Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
My Rating: 8/10
In Short: Riveting dialogue-driven experiment
Richard Linklater, as I’ve written in my last Profile post, is a director whose films are generally reliant on strongly written dialogue. It plays such a key part in all his movies. Take Slacker, for example, which examined an entire culture of people simply by analysing the way they speak. Then there was Before Sunrise, which focused on the conversation between two lovers on their last night together. And even more engaging was subUrbia, a Clerks-style look at a group of young hoodlums who hang around, chatting amiably. Then in 2001, there was Tape, which established yet again what Linklater was capable of creating when he focused more on the dialogue than the imagery.
The entire film takes place in a hotel room, and never leaves the room. It is actually a carefully constructed set, but the production designers and Linklater make it look so realistic by adding the smallest touches, as well as that subtle feeling of claustrophobia one feels in hotels occasionally. The plot revolves around Vince (Ethan Hawke), who has come to town for a film festival at which Jon’s (Robert Sean Leonard) film is being shown. Jon stops by Vince’s hotel room, and the two begin chatting. Eventually the subject turns to a woman called Amy (Uma Thurman), whom both men dated in high school. The conversation is friendly enough, until Vince questions what really happened between Jon and Amy one night.
Linklater does a curious thing here: at first the conversation (which lasts about twenty to thirty minutes before Amy is even mentioned) revolves around Vince’s tendencies involving violence toward women, and very, very slowly, the conversation is reversed so that, instead of Jon questioning Vince about violence, Vince is questioning Jon. This type of role reversal occurs a few times within the film, and it is triggered simply by the patterns of casual dialogue that flow between the two, as well as Amy when she arrives in the film’s final act.
This is an intense film, and it is certainly not for everyone. There are just some people who won’t be able to stand 80 minutes of nothing but talking. However, I loved it. The actors, especially Hawke, all performed a brilliant job, considering the circumstances of having to memorise so many endless words. They all react perfectly to what the other is saying, and there are no flaws in characterisation. This is due to many things, besides the acting of course. There is Linklater’s smooth, easygoing direction, which helped the actors to glide through their parts; and there is Stephen Belber’s screenplay, which he adapted from his one-act play, which is precise, exacting, and never slow. The conversation just seems to keep flowing and flowing; I can imagine that once Belber started writing, it would’ve been difficult for him to stop, as there are really no scene breaks in the movie at all. Everything seems to occur in real time. We never cut to five minutes later, or an hour later: this film is just continuous. It starts at one point in time, and simply ends 80 minutes later.
If a director can manage to pull off a film with such a reliance on great acting, writing and keeping the audience’s attention, then I applaud them. Linklater has done just that. Tape is a meticulous, perfect experiment, much in the vein of films like Timecode and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, in which people start talking or acting, and the camera never jumps ahead, never skips parts, just keeps on representing everything in real time, without making anything boring. Tape is a seriously intriguing experiment that never bores.