on November 02, 2001 by Annlee Ellingson
   Consisting of a cast of three and set solely in a cramped hotel room, Richard Linklater's "Tape" has all the makings of a filmed stageplay. Instead, the movie is among the finest examples of digital cinema done right, wherein the medium adds a sense of immediacy and intimacy that could not have otherwise been achieved.

   Ethan Hawke is Vince and Robert Sean Leonard is John in this reunion of high school pals 10 years later. Vince is a volunteer firefighter and pothead. John has a film premiering in the Lansing Film Festival. In the first reel, the old friends catch up, focusing on Vince's recent break-up with his girlfriend due to his "violent tendencies" and his need to get his act together. Vince is entertaining, if he is a loser, greeting John in his boxer shorts, bouncing on the beds, guzzling beers and then chucking them at the wall.

   But soon the tables are turned. Vince has an agenda--to get John to admit what he's suspected all along: In senior year, Vince's first love Amy didn't choose to lose her virginity to John--he raped her. John's the dirtbag, not Vince. Tensions mount as John suggests he may have used "excessive linguistic pressure" and that Amy probably doesn't remember it and that it was a pivotal moment for him, when he promised himself it would never happen again. Finally, a la Jack Nicholson's infamous admission on the stand in "A Few Good Men," John admits, "I pinned her arms back and stuck my dick in."

   And Vince gets it all on tape. Not only that, but Amy lives in the area and is on her way over right now, and doesn't John think he should apologize?

   When Amy (Uma Thurman) arrives, the group dynamic become even more complex, as Amy at first cryptically denies John did anything wrong, questions Vince's motivations and eventually threatens to call the cops on them both. Audience sympathy shifts from one character to another in an interesting departure from the good guy-bad guy formula one usually sees as they defend themselves and reveal their intentions, although this does create a sense of unfamiliar unevenness.

   Linklater adds to the action by creatively composing shots--with John's elevated feet or a lamp in the foreground and in focus, superseding the actors--and implementing a handheld, moving camera, including whip pans back and forth as the two men argue in close-up, that suggests the viewer is a silent observer in the room. Also, there's no soundtrack to cast a veneer of falseness to the scenes.

   "Tape" is a refreshing acting exercise for both the actors and the audience that works because of the freedom digital video extends. Starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Stephen Belber. Produced by Gary Winick, Alexis Alexanian and Anne Walker-McBay. No distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 84 min

Tags: Starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. Directed by Richard Linklater. Written by Stephen Belber. Produced by Gary Winick, Alexis Alexanian, Anne Walker-McBay, Drama

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