This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Written by Abbie Bernstein
Tuesday, 14 August 2001
|New Line Home Entertainment
||R (strong violence, language, some sexuality)
||Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Avery Brooks
Andy Warhol once said that someday, everybody would be famous for 15
minutes. The film "15 Minutes" illustrates the downside of this concept
in a vigorous, sly black comedy/actioner that makes some good satirical
points while boasting at least two bravura action sequences.
Writer/director John Herzfeld stacks the deck unnecessarily in places,
but his tale of literal and tabloid overkill is gripping nonetheless.
Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro) is a New York homicide detective and
mini-celebrity, thanks to both his "solve" rate and his cooperation
with the news media. Eddie’s path intersects with that of Fire Dept.
arson nvestigator Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) when a building is burned
down in a futile attempt to cover up a double murder. The killers,
Czech Emily (Karel Roden) and Russian Oleg (Oleg Taktarov), both recent
arrivals from Eastern Europe, are in possession of a video camera and
much taken with American TV. Oleg fancies himself a filmmaker, while
Emil simply relishes the notion of notoriety. Watching a television
news segment on a killer who has beat the rap on grounds of insanity,
Emil thinks he’s come up with a foolproof plan to get rich and famous,
while indulging his propensity for violence.
Although some of this turf has been covered before – "Natural Born
Killers" springs to mind – "15 Minutes" is more conventionally
accessible than previous explorations of the territory, with the
spotlight on the solid protagonists played by De Niro and Burns, rather
than the murderers. This turns out to mean that "15 Minutes" gets a bit
didactic and self-congratulatory at times, but it also packs an
enormous wallop in places. There’s a ferocious fight in Chapter 14
involving some unusual props that we’ve never seen before (at least,
not employed in this manner) and a fire sequence that for complexity
and suspense holds its own against any similar ones in memory.
In any film that wants the audience to fear conflagration, sound plays
a big role. Fire – whispering, hissing, roaring – travels around the
soundfield, lurking and leaping out with directional precision. The big
setpiece for this is in Chapter 16, where the whole room thumps with
the impact of explosions and vibrates with sustained fiery vibrations,
aurally positioning the viewer alongside the onscreen characters.
Herzfeld also plays with the villains’ video camera, using infrared and
digital video effects to jazz up scenes – and also occasionally to
stylize violence that might be too much for many viewers if shot
naturalistically. While the changes in imagery are more obvious than
those in sound, we also hear the audio track from the onscreen camera,
which makes for an intriguing, persuasive change in aural texture when
Burns, a filmmaker himself ("The Brothers McMullen," "She’s the One")
manages the trick of being cranky yet personable, filling the leading
man bill adeptly. De Niro is completely in his element as a savvy,
tough customer who knows the score, yet has his amusingly vain and
Of course, the baddies steal the show. Roden is mesmerizing, an evil
elf who has such joy in his own lethalness and such surprising,
captivating reactions that he pretty much commandeers the screen when
he’s on (no small feat, considering some of his scene partners here).
Taktarov as the budding auteur has a wide-eyed innocence that contrasts
wonderfully/horribly with his characters heinous actions. It’s
unsurprising to hear that Roden is a star in his native Czech Republic.
Both performers are finds, their new (to U.S. audiences, at least)
faces giving an extra layer of unpredictability to the scenario.
"15 Minutes" is the latest in New Line’s "Infinifilm" series, which
means that, like "13 Days" before it, this DVD contains the option of
playing the film with a track that has a host of stop/start options.
For example, in the middle of a scene involving whether or not a
tabloid TV news show would air a videotape of a murder, we can click
for comments from the likes of Maury Povich and Sally Jessy Raphael on
the likelihood of this and then be returned seamlessly to the action.
One complaint – just where some viewers would most like a "how they did
that" featurette, in the big fire scene, there are none to be had.
It should also be noted that there are a little more than twice as many
chapters on the Infinifilm track (at least, according to my DVD
player’s chapter counter) than on the regular film track. This gets a
little complicated if you try to access the chapters via the Infinifilm
"scene selection" feature, as the chapter numbers correspond to both
the chapters on the regular film track and those printed on the box
insert. However, should you access the "Fire Trap" sequence on the
Infinifilm track, which both the liner notes and the scene selection
will tell you is Chapter 16, the player counter will inform you that
you’re in Chapter 35. Advice for those who plan to stop and start in
the Infinifilm mode: write yourself a reminder as to the chapter number
where you left off. The sound on both the regular and Infinifilm
versions seems identical. One of the most appealing features of
Infinifilm is that the menu tells you exactly how long each separate
special feature is – even individual chapters (although, again, the
Infinifilm time given on the chapters is for the chapters listed on the
menu, not the mini-chapters the DVD player creates as the Infinifilm
Other extras on the DVD include a 2.0 audio commentary track from
director Herzfeld, who is most articulate and enthusiastic when
discussing working with his talented cast, deleted scenes with optional
director commentary, two sequences that are in the film captured
entirely on Taktarov’s video camera and a couple of panel discussions.
One of these, "Does Crime Pay?", seems to stack the argument a bit,
with Mark Fuhrman as one of the commentators. For that matter, many of
the add-ons come off as finger-pointing and pious handwringing,
providing a sanctimonious tone that may tip the film into genuine
smarminess. There’s a rather astonishing comment from Herzfeld on one
of the deleted scenes that he removed a revelation about Roden’s
character Emil because the filmmaker feared it made the character "too
sympathetic." At this point in the film, there seems not a chance in
hell that the audience will sympathize with Emil’s acts, but Herzfeld
opts against showing that there’s a background to Emil’s sociopath
status (an odd decision for a movie that wants to discuss real-world
issues with some seriousness). There is also a "15 Minutes of True
Tabloid Stars" with (among others) Jerry Springer and Sally Jessy
Raphael, which is exactly 15 minutes long.
"15 Minutes" has its ups and downs, the latter including a climax
that’s both familiar and unlikely. However, it also has terrific
performances and some excellent action sequences. Fans of the genre
won’t want to miss it.
|English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Digital Stereo Surround
|2.35:1, Enhanced for Widescreen TVs
Commentary with Writer/Director John Herzfeld; "15 Minutes of True
Tabloid Stars" Featurette; "Does Crime Pay?" Featurette; Trivia
Subtitle Track; Deleted Scenes With Optional Director Commentary; Video
Footage From Actor Oleg Taktarov’s Perspective; God Lives Underwater
"Fame" Music Video; Theatrical Trailer; English Subtitles; DVD-ROM
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