Tape

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Tape

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Tape

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Just when the Dogme 95 revolution appeared to be on the wane, the Independent Film Channel has commissioned a digital-filmmaking collective called InDigEnt (read: Dogme West) to produce 10 digital-video features on budgets of $150,000 or less. It remains to be seen what this bushel of art will ultimately yield, but if the other nine are like Richard Linklater's Tape, expect the cinematic equivalent of a musician's four-track home recordings. Based on a stage play by Stephen Belber, the film does little more than throw three people in a pot and heat them until they boil, in a back-to-basics approach that gives the actors room to act but keeps any other dynamics to a minimum. The undercard to this year's visionary Waking Life, Tape seems like a footnote to Linklater's filmography, but his intimate, unadorned staging serves the play's dramatic intensity and allows its unreliable cast members to turn out some of their best work to date. Introduced in a too-tight undershirt and boxers, shotgunning beer in a dingy motel room, Ethan Hawke plays a 28-year-old burnout from Oakland who ekes out a living selling pot to aging hippies and smoking the profits. In town for the Lansing Film Festival première of the debut feature of his old buddy Robert Sean Leonard, Hawke anticipates (and receives) some high-handed scolding from his presumably more accomplished and motivated friend, who has a nice room at the Radisson. Anxious to turn the tables and expose Leonard's hypocrisy, Hawke steers the conversation toward an incident that occurred 10 years earlier, during their senior year of high school, when Leonard may or may not have raped Hawke's ex-girlfriend, played by Uma Thurman. As it happens, Thurman works in Lansing as an Assistant D.A., but when Hawke invites her to the room for a final twist of the knife, she offers another perspective that surprises them both. A Rashomon for the date-rape age, Tape swims in ambiguous phrases like "aggressively playful" and "excessive linguistic pressure," and shows how the characters' ulterior agendas color their accounts of what really happened. Of the many impulses that drive them to uncover the truth—mistrust, jealousy, spite, anguish, revenge—the need for actual justice runs a distant last. By squeezing the action into a confined space for 90 minutes, Linklater creates an airless, claustrophobic environment that builds in intensity as the evening wears on. But his nearly irredeemable characters are all too reminiscent of his worst film, an adaptation of Eric Bogosian's poisonous SubUrbia. Belber's script isn't quite as coarse and judgmental, but when Linklater writes for himself, his attitude is always more forgiving and generous. After the dreamy trance of Waking Life, Tape is like a splash of cold water.

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