I don’t think anyone does small, dialogue-heavy indie film like Richard Linklater. He is the master of them and that only makes me madder when he remakes movies like Bad News Bears. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are beautiful films shot simply and effectively, showing that cinema can rely on words and actors without the need for cranes or effects. Tape is one that works very well with those as a darker companion. Adapted by Stephen Belber from his own play, Linklater gives us a claustrophobic account of three old friends’ psyches as past pains are dug up to devastating effect. This is one intense film from all angles and very powerful, leading one to remember things they have done it the past that they may regret. But do we ever truly recall them how they actually happened, or just how we have seared the events into our minds? No one can know the real objective truth, just his own subjective outlook.
Brought about by one man’s insecurities on why his first girlfriend in high school would not sleep with him, yet as soon as they broke up did so with his best friend, the night starts out light and snowballs into more than he ever could have anticipated. Planning the entire evening in order to entrap his oldest buddy into admitting something that may or may not have happened, not even he could have imagined what emotions would be stirred up getting the two participants into the same room ten years later. Both Vince—the orchestrator—and Jon—the accused—are self-absorbed in a way that they can’t see for themselves. One has not grown up and seems to be in the same rut he has been since graduation while the other has made something of his life, yet it appears somewhat shallowly and not as important as he may want to believe. Always in competition with each other to show how they differ while the other attempts to explain how they are the same, this night is no different. Neither of them has any stake in others and truly is only out to save themselves. Whether we are shown apologies, happiness, truth, or lies, every moment is self-serving, full of empty words spoken to assuage their guilt and not to instill regret or compassion for those they wronged.
The title of the film is that of the device used as the catalyst for everything. Vince planned it all to perfection in his head, gets buzzed and sets up the motel room as though he was wasted (drink one beer, dump another down the drain, and throw both cans across the room). The room is made so that Jon feels a bit more open to talk, exactly what is wanted as the tape recorder listens to it all. A confession sounds a lot different when uttered than when heard from a tape. What is said in the heat of the moment can be a sobering experience when listened to and can make you think things that may or may not be true. Whether Jon truly did what he eventually confesses to is subject to opinion, and when the “victim” enters into the equation, you can throw all you thought was true out the window. Did she see the incident in the same way? Did she know exactly what she was doing? Only they know for certain, but the mind is a fickle machine, evolving over time, changing events to mirror the memory instead of the reality. One man’s moral crusade, his attempt at gaining closure for himself while possibly also for his friends, finds that his selfishness not only could destroy the one relationship he truly relies on, but also the lives of the three involved.
With an intense script to begin with, it all becomes more so from the setting and film style. Trapped in a small room for the duration, the stakes rise higher and higher as we are shown a slowly uncovering past. The camera begins to film more close-ups and we never get to go outside the door nor into the bathroom—the room gets smaller and smaller until it is stifling with the addition of our last character. A big part also is the real life relationships between those involved. The three actors, as well as the director, have a bond that allows them to be as real as possible onscreen, making it all believable. You have Ethan Hawke as Vince, his real-life wife at the time Uma Thurman as Amy, and I’m assuming friend Robert Sean Leonard (I guess this because he does so little work and co-starred with Hawke in Dead Poets Society that maybe he joined the cast as a favor to his friend), and close collaborator Linklater, whom Hawke has worked with extensively. Each is phenomenal in their execution and once the climax comes to a boil you finally see the true self of all. Maybe the victim is actually the strongest and maybe the self-righteous accuser is the weak link to the group, always running and always hiding. It is really up to the viewer to decide what is true and what isn’t. Just because a confession is on tape does not mean it is truth. That is in the eye of the beholder.
Tape 8/10 | ★ ★ ★