Richard Linklater's follow-up to the technically dazzling, frequently pretentious animation Waking Life is a no-frills affair shot on digital video. Taken from Stephen Belber's play, it's about as minimal as cinema gets: three actors, one set, all talk. Thankfully, though, what could have been a recipe for tedium is elevated by superb performances, innovative camerawork and a plot with more twists than a cement mixer full of fusilli.
Hawke plays Vince, a typical Linklater slacker holed up in a motel room in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan. A part-time fireman and full-time dope dealer whose clients include his own fire chief, his return home coincides with that of Jon (Robert Sean Leonard), an old chum who's in town to promote his new movie at the local film festival.
Vince has invited Jon to his motel, ostensibly to shoot the shit and catch up on old times. But, still smarting over Jon stealing his girlfriend in high school, he has an ulterior motive: to make his guest confess to... well, something nasty that shouldn't be revealed here. Anyway, part of his plan requires the attendance of Uma Thurman's assistant district attorney, to witness Jon's contrition.
With the camera close enough to capture every drop of sweat, flicker of doubt and subtle shift of power, Linklater turns the dramatic screws until you are begging for mercy. Hawke's edgy, unpredictable Vince is a surprisingly livewire turn from an actor often accused of being too internalised, and his fellow Dead Poets Society star Leonard impresses as the condescending Jon. But both are left in the shade by Thurman, who doesn't enter the frame until the last third and then proceeds to steal the entire film.