Rating: R for language and adult content
Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Director Richard Linklater is the man of the hour. His innovative “Waking Life” is taking art-houses by storm, and quickly in its stead comes his riveting, claustrophobic ensemble piece about three friends in crisis.
Friends who stand on the precipice, oblivious to the inevitability of emotional doom. Ethan Hawke is thirty-something loser Vince, holed up in a shabby Lansing, Michigan motel room impatiently waiting on his friend John. John (Robert Sean Leonard) is a preppy, budding filmmaker, in town to pitch his stuff at the local film festival.
The meeting begins casually enough, with Vince and John engaging in the verbal sparring typical of comfortable old high school chums. But Vince - edgy, stoned and with anxiety to burn - crosses a social line or two and raises John’s ire. John loses his upscale cool and tells Vince what he really thinks – grow up, get a life, and deal with your unresolved tendencies towards violence.
Dinner plans are stalled. Vince inexplicably turns counselor, extracting a confession (from John) of an unpleasant incident that took place in high school involving Vince’s ex-girlfriend Amy. When Amy (Uma Thurman) appears at the motel’s door, the picture is ripe for a devastating conflict.
The suspense inherent in this three-man drama set in one seedy motel room is thick enough to choke a horse. Elements of surprise, denial, and malevolence are a potent triple-threat that mesmerizes even as it repels. The moral issues are (thankfully) left for the viewer to sort out.
Linklater’s use of digital video provided the actors freedom to improvise, and the results are raw and provocative. The three performers play effortlessly off one another – testing and jousting their way through the muddy waters of transparent apprehension. A smartly-crafted, voyeuristic pleasure – sans the guilt.