When Eastern European criminals Oleg and Emil come to New York City to pick up their share of a heist score, Oleg steals a video camera and starts filming their activities, both legal and illegal. When they learn how the American media circus can make a remorseless killer look like the victim and make them rich, they target media-savvy NYPD Homicide Detective Eddie Flemming and media-naive FDNY Fire Marshal Jordy Warsaw, the cops investigating their murder and torching of their former criminal partner, filming everything to sell to the local tabloid TV show "Top Story." Written by
Jeff Cross <email@example.com>
Unconventional and unexpected; a great film that takes a strong, brave stand on American culture. ***1/2 (out of four)
FIFTEEN MINUTES / (2001) ***1/2 (out of four)
By Blake French:
"Fifteen Minutes" is a powerful, thought-provoking, and unexpected thriller about real life. It is a thematic movie that makes a strong, supported, and convincing stand on many current controversial issues, targeting and exposing the many weaknesses and absurdities of the American legal systems. The film also incorporates prospects dealing with greed, power, popularity, the public eye, influences of media, the power of television, and the desire of immigrants to achieve fame in America. This is not your typical Hollywood action flick; it is occupied with twists and unconventional surprises in which many producers would stay far away. "Fifteen Minutes" is a movie with guts and impact, and for the first time in a long time, the theater audience where I screened the film gave it a recognizable applause as the closing credits appeared.
"Fifteen Minutes" is complete with big Hollywood names, like Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, and even includes cameos from several distinguishable actors: Charlize Theron has a neat little appearance as a recruiter for hookers, and David Alan Grier shows up as a pedestrian causing trouble in New York City. But the movie actually centers on two Eastern European immigrants named Emil Slovak (Karel Roden), and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov). They have come to the United States looking for a man who owes them a large sum of money, but eventually discover opportunities for fame. They kill their debtors and capture the murders on a stolen home video camera. There is, of course, an illegal immigrant who witnessed the crime, Daphne (Vera Farmiga), who is now wary and on the run.
Enter homicide detective Eddie Flemming (De Niro), a local celebrity, and arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Burns), who could not care less about the media. They form a team to undercover what appears to be a fatal fire accident, but soon discover the scene was the location of a brutal murder. Enter a subplot where a veteran detective informs a novice of the same sort new ways to explore his profession. The story then takes an unexpected turn of events where the criminal's intentions explode into sadistic atrocity: Oleg and Emil plan to sell the video of their murders to a TV network anchor (Kelsey Grammer) for a million dollars. They intend to beat the charges with an insanity plea, also stating that they were abused as children. Why would the two immigrants want to do such a thing? To achieve fame-even if it is of a notorious nature.
We wait patiently for the story to take off with the setup, but it stays with two separate narratives for quite sometime. When the narratives do cross its obvious this is not your typical, run-of-the-mill action picture, but an insightful picture that says something about, among many other concepts, the power and influence of the media. The madman fascinated with video taping is "yesterday's news" already seen in 1999's "American Beauty." It does not have the same impact in this film, however, mostly because here it is more of a sadistic obsession never truly understood, rather than the passion and exploration in the multiple Academy Award winner. It is fun watching the incidences photographed with the home video camera; there are some cool special effects that add a nice touch to the scenes.
Robert De Niro gives another suave hotshot performance; it is coming to the point where his talent is more effective in shtick comedies like "Analyzed This." Regardless, the veteran actor grabs us by the collar and yanks with no regrets and a thought-provoking, determined attitude. The screenplay provides his character with an effective soft side through a romance with his girlfriend. Edward Burns ("Saving Private Ryan") is never really bad in a movie, but his personality feels too resigned and modest to be in these violent dramas. He has a few understood moments, and often his performance fits his character accordingly, but a braver, more aggressive actor may have fit the part better.
Surprisingly, the best performances in "Fifteen Minutes" come from the villains, Oleg Taktarov and Karel Roden. Both are very clever in their roles, which are also exceedingly well written: when the two encounter a visit with a local prostitute, the scene does not result in mechanical sex, but in violent misunderstanding that furthers the complications of the plot. Both actors are convincing and unpredictable. Many early critics have complained about the film's implausibility, but Taktarov and Roden portray their characters with such mean-spirited brutality and complex emotions, I believed every step they took.
John Herzfeld is the film's director. His last project, "2 Days in the Valley," was quite a bit different from "Fifteen Minutes." There are certain aspects of his filmmaking style that carry over, but for the most part this film stands on its own from his previous achievements. Herzfeld constructs "Fifteen Minutes" with complexity and thought. It is a brave, courageous movie, deserving of controversy but will likely pass as a theme-orientated action picture. I think most audiences will appreciate the production for what it is and how it informs us on such distressing issues. When we walk out of the theater, we get a sense that we trust in our government's legal system even less than we did before watching the movie.
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