I’ve always been fond of this little-seen Linklater B-side. A bunch of characters talking in a room for 90 minutes could be the synopsis for any number of Linklater’s movies yet Tape is unquestionably the darkest and most sinister to earn that description.
Tape‘s simplicity and slowly unfurling conflicts are what keep it engaging. A two-hander for two thirds and then a three-hander for the last chunk, the three actors are all great and noticeably having fun chewing so much dialogue. I really like Uma Thurman’s performance, she must have been on the verge of shooting Kill Bill and this role is a wonderful showcase for her skills that haven’t really been utilized by any filmmaker since. If this is anyone’s movie though it’s Ethan Hawke’s. The guy is off-the-chain here and as Vince he is as irritating as he is entertaining. It’s a strange performance, somewhat OTT and in need of some reeling in but also fascinating. Maybe it’s the harshness of the grubby digital lens that makes it more bracing but when I think of Tape I always think of Hawke running across the hotel beds and losing his shit. As he is responsible for bringing the project to the director you get the sense it’s more of a passion project for him than Linklater, who probably saw it as a fun technical experiment more than anything.
Unfolding in real-time and based on a one-act play of the same name, the film is only really remembered now for being one of the first to be shot on Mini DV. It’s funny watching it today because you can see how over-the-moon Linklater was with the mobility the format offered. It feels like the camera switches position with every line of dialogue, there must be about fifty different set-ups in the first five minutes alone! I’m not sure the restless approach was the right one to take with this material, however, as it’s pretty distracting and unnecessary a lot of the time. It gives the film a film school student who has just picked up a camera for the first time-vibe that isn’t always welcome. But then again those flaws add to the film’s charm and personality.
While not one of Linklater’s best, as a long time fan of the director I’ll always have a soft spot for Tape. It shows the filmmaker stepping out of his comfort zone to make something edgy and cynical whilst also having fun with some new technology at the same time. It might be uncharacteristic of him but it still feels of a piece with his interests and experiments. Would make a good double feature with Friedkin’s Bug.