Of the two 2001 releases churned out as director Richard Linklater became drunk on the possibilities of digital video, Tape is by far the more unassuming -- filmed plays are sort of a staple for maverick directors -- but the movie's use of inexpensive technology to bring resolutely uncommercial material to the big screen is in many ways as exciting as Waking Life's revolutionary rotoscoped animation. (Both films appeared at the 2001 Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals before their fall theatrical releases.) Stephen Belber's one-act source material may, at first, have the air of a hot-button graduate thesis project committed to film, but Linklater and his trio of performers find ways of envigorating the material without resorting to actorly grandstanding and trumped-up technique. As the script invites the audience's loyalty to shift from person to person, Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman all manage to generate some degree of sympathy even as the plot rightfully keeps them at arm's length; they're all identifiable human beings, thanks to Linklater's deft, improvisational method. The director at times seems a little too enamored with his newfound ability to over-shoot a scene -- the quick cutting, multiple angles, and whip pans grow a little tiring towards the end. Still, by lending Tape a vitality and athleticism it might not have had on celluloid, Linklater's use of digital video proves to be not just a financial necessity but an artistic one.
by Michael Hastings review