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
"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
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.