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15 Minutes Print E-mail
Tuesday, 14 August 2001

15 Minutes

New Line Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R (strong violence, language, some sexuality)
starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Avery Brooks
release year: 2001
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

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 it’s employed.

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 tender sides.

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 track plays).

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.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Digital Stereo Surround
aspect ratio(s):
2.35:1, Enhanced for Widescreen TVs
special features: Audio 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 Script-to-Screen Feature
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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