Critics Consensus

Tape's stagebound feel is balanced by the engrossing psychodrama of its storyline, which allows a committed cast to shine.



Total Count: 99


Audience Score

User Ratings: 8,660
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Movie Info

Within the confines of a tawdry motor lodge in Lansing, Michigan, three old friends come together to play out the unresolved drama of their final days in high school. John, a first-time filmmaker, is in Michigan to present his film at a local film festival. Vince, now a volunteer firefighter and small-time drug dealer, comes to support John on his big day, or so it seems. But after their initial greetings, an undercurrent of tension remains. Gradually, it becomes clear that Vince still resents what he sees as John having stolen his girlfriend years before, and as the two men debate, a more serious accusation emerges.

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Critic Reviews for Tape

All Critics (99) | Top Critics (29)

  • Three actors yakking in a single drab interior, shot on HD video: It's unlikely this poverty-program recipe has, or ever will again, yield results quite as entertaining as "Tape."

    May 20, 2008

    Dennis Harvey

    Top Critic
  • This makes good on that old Dogme promise by discarding the crutches of conventional movie drama and concentrating on the raw essentials of character and story.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A film, which, for all its energy, never quite sparks into life.

    Apr 4, 2003 | Full Review…
  • Engrossing and dynamic viewing thanks to convincing dialogue and lively acting, most notably from Hawke.

    Jul 9, 2002 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Laura Bushell

    Top Critic
  • If Tape's claustrophobia doesn't get to you, and if you've got the intestinal fortitude to spend nearly 90 minutes in intimate proximity with two equally unlikeable guys, the movie does exert a certain propulsive fascination.

    Mar 22, 2002 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • For the most part, Tape is smart and deftly executed, with Hawke, in particular, as the resentful Vince, making a vivid impression.

    Mar 22, 2002 | Rating: 3/4

Audience Reviews for Tape

  • Nov 27, 2014
    "I'm not high and mighty. I'm too high to be high and mighty" As a companion piece to the marvellous Waking Life, director Richard Linklater delivered this experimental and solid little adaptation of Stephen Belber's stage play. Some may not have even heard of this one, let alone seen it as it's probably one of his most unseen works. As always with Linklater, though, it confirms his place as one of the most original and under appreciated of American filmmakers. Jon (Robert Sean Leonard) is a local boy who catches a big break as an actor and returns to his home town to attend a film festival where he is appearing in a new movie. At a motel he meets up with Vince (Ethan Hawke), his old high school friend. However, Vince hasn't changed a bit and seems intent on bringing up things from the past which Jon seems happy to let go of. When (Uma Thurman), another friend from school appears, things don't quite add up as their past relationship has more to it than some of them care to admit. Set entirely within the confines of a small, cheap motel room with bad decor, Linklater's ingenuity is apparent from the offset. He shoots on digital video achieving a true minimalism that fully captures the feel of a stage play. There's no music score or elaborate sound effects, but only the highly charged, back and forth interaction between Hawke and Leonard (reuniting after Dead Poets Society). This might not sound too appealing on the surface but it's entirely effective for the material and the inclusion of an old flame in Thurman, adds a captivating edge to the overall purpose and motivation of the three-dimensional characters. As a chamber piece, dialogue is the order of the day here and it's sharply written and tensely delivered by all three cast members. Their awkwardness is apparent in their exchanges and they have us constantly wondering who to side with while Linklater utilises his environment to marvellous effect. In such a confined space, his movement with the camera is very impressive and he fully captures the claustrophobia and tension to perfection. Sometimes Linklater will delver a film that just doesn't receive the recognition it deserves and Tape can certainly be included among these. Criminally overlooked upon it's release (and since) as this is a brilliantly realised adaptation that benefits from strong performances, inventive direction and maintains it's intensity right to the very end. Mark Walker
    Mark W Super Reviewer
  • Apr 26, 2014
    Oh yeah, creeps, you know that something exciting always happens on a tape of motel activities... probably because not enough people saw this film to break that stereotype. No, the film is adequately engaging, I reckon, but it came out not even a month after "Waking Life", which it followed by only three days as Sundance, and either amount of time is way too brief to take comfort in Richard Linklater's name. I don't think the budget helped the fear, because as much as I joke about how no one saw this film, it didn't even break $500,000, and still made way over its budget, probably because Linklater blew all of his money on "Waking Life". I'd imagine all of that rotoscoping technology and college philosophy textbooks which the script was inspired by weren't cheap, and I don't know what's sadder: the fact that all of that money was kind of a wasted on a mediocre art film, or the fact that Ethan Hawke's, Robert Sean Leonard's and Uma Thurman's fame continued to fade after this production which could still afford them on a $100,000 budget. Well, Leonard was cheap because no one ever really cared too much about him, whereas Hawke and Thurman were cheap because Thurman was married to Hawke at the time, and because Hawke has always been Linklater's boyfriend, so I guess the secret behind saving money on this film revolves around a game of "Six Degrees of Richard Linklater" that, well, I don't really feel like playing, because I'm done with convolution for a while after "Waking Life". You know, while I liked "The Newton Boys", it was commercial something fierce, so I can kind of respect Linklater's going all-out with his 2001 comeback to experimental filmmaking, at least after this film. Yeah, if nothing else, this film is better than "Waking Life", although its predecessor in Linklater's filmography didn't raise too high of a standard, and sure enough, while this film is decent, it can't exactly, if you will, "tape" off its blemishes. Certainly to save money and ostensibly compliment grounded themes, the film utilizes camcorder filming equipment that Richard Linklater plays with in a manner whose slick style often compensates for amateurish technical shortcomings, which still stand, diluting cinematic immersion value, not quite helped by the intentional claustrophobia and faithfulness of this adaptation of a minimalist play. The drama has primarily been criticized for its often feeling a touch too much like a play, and I subscribe to such criticism, because as much as sharper direction and more subtle acting make Stephen Belber's vision's translation to the silver screen more organic on the whole, the minimalism of the film's environment and the overt snap of the dialogue establish a stagey sense of objectivity in the subjective context of film. The play's feel doesn't work as well as it ought to when applied to film, nor does the play's real-time structure, which leaves plotting unable to break along its path for the sake of development beyond almost forced exposition, or for the sake of a feel for dynamicity, a shortage of which leads to a sense of aimlessness that some may find never dissipates, due to the fact that the narrative itself was never to be all that momentous. More talk than action in a setting that I have, time and again, described as minimalist, this film follows a narrative that was always to be plagued with natural shortcomings, deriving from a lack of dramatic meat and layering that was always to limit potential that, as you can imagine, gradually thins down under the weight of the stagey feel and dragging, often to a bland point. Thriving on immersion value, Richard Linklater's direction discards scoring and theatrical atmospheric bite to make up for a lack of technical and narrative flare, and as much as the film proves to be stylish, well-written and well-acted enough to entertain adequately, there are a number of moments in which the film finally slips into dullness. The film is by no means the bore that was Linklater's other highly experimental dramas, but it isn't all that entertaining, and it can't afford to have such bland spells, as its narrative is thin, and the interpretation of such a narrative is too technically faulty, stagey and aimless to sustain enough of your investment to make the final product all that memorable. However, what the film does right it does mighty well, certainly not to where the final product can stand a chance of transcending underwhelmingess, but nevertheless to where the effort gets by, even with a hint of style. As I've said, the technical shortcomings of this perhaps intentionally cheap film stand firm, with amateur camcorder equipment that is distancing, but all but compensated for by an unexpectedly sharp sense of style to nifty shots and Sandra Adair's razor-sharp, snappy editing that offers genuine liveliness to neatly contradict minimalism as an important aspect in this film. Of course, just as it's worthy of criticism for thinning narrative meat and reinforcing something of a stagey feel, the minimalism of the film deserves some praise, as the motel setting, in its being tightly spaced and, of course, grounded, carries an immersion value that perhaps wouldn't feel so effective when it does, in fact, feel effective if directorial influence wasn't so thoughtful. I've already covered style, and that's arguably the most prominent strength in Richard Linklater's sparse direction, but not the only one, as Linklater's steady pacing, established through tight and subtly stylized scene structuring, while often a little too steady to sustain entertainment value, expands the feel of length in this film to a slightly more memorable degree, while keeping up some entertainment value through plays upon the snap in scripting and, for that matter, depth to the subject matter. Mind you, this minimalist story concept doesn't carry much meat, but as a study on the reconnection between longtime friends who uncover demons and what they haven't quite aged out of throughout the course of a revelatory evening, this narrative has an intrigue to it that I'm sure worked better on the stage, but still works reasonably well here, thanks to Stephen Belber's script's featuring dialogue that is still too stagey and histrionic for its own good, but thoroughly snappy in a way that is colorful, as well as extensive in a way that breathes as much life as it can into this subject matter. Natural and consequential shortcomings wait around every corner to dilute the life that Belber's script works to sustain, until the final product is rendered hardly all that memorable, but the film could have sunk further if it wasn't for inspiration found in Linklater's and Belber's efforts in crafting an adequately intriguing, deeply intimate character study, which can be made or broken by the cast. To be so cheap, the film is able to afford a trio of pretty talented performers, and they deliver as best they can, with the late-to-arrive Uma Thurman convincing as a respectable woman with certain regrets about as much as the seriously Jim Carrey-looking Robert Sean Leonard does as an intellectual who finds his morality called into question by someone he felt he could trust, while Ethan Hawke stands out in a show-stealing portrayal of a charismatic, but thoroughly flawed and arrogant manchild whose lack of predictability and shakiness in humanity really feeds a sense of mystery that does a lot to drive what intrigue there is to this psychological drama. The performers carry the film, more consistently than the offscreen talent, which is still there, providing enough adequate entertainment value and dramatic intrigue to endear, in spite of limitations that are a touch too difficult to overcome. In closing, faulty filming quality and a stagey feel to the aimless and often atmospherically bland telling of a story too minimalist to be all that meaty make a rather forgettable drama, but there's enough flare to style, immersion value to the minimalist setting, thoughtfulness to the direction, cleverness to the writing and charisma to Uma Thurman, Robert Sean Leonard and a particularly gripping Ethan Hawke to secure Richard Linklater's "Tape" as an interesting intimate character drama, even though it could never overcome underwhelmingness. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Mar 02, 2013
    Another great low budget picture by the modern godfather of indie: Richard Linklatter.
    ZACHO D Super Reviewer
  • Jan 26, 2013
    A low-budget film that explores the pasts of three former high school friends, Tape is a little too slow for its own good, but it has some great acting from the three stars and the dialogue is still engrossing in that typical Richard Linklater way.
    Joey S Super Reviewer

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