15 Minutes

View Date: March 3rd, 2001

Cast :

Robert De Niro Eddie Fleming
Edward Burns Jordy Warsaw
Kelsey Grammer Robert Hawkins
Avery Brooks Leon Jackson
Melina Kanakaredes Nicolette Karas
Karel Roden Emil Slovak
Oleg Taktarov Oleg Razgul
Vera Farmiga Daphne Handlova

Director and Writer: John Herzfeld 

When broken down, movies are little more than historical documents with motion, sound and action.  They reflect the influences of society on the filmmaker, and their subsequent translation into a piece of art.  Hence, the movies of a certain period will tend to represent the times by being a cross section of when it was made.  In 15 Minutes, director John Herzfeld attempts to make a biting social commentary regarding the influence of the media on people, and vice versa.  The desired ideal hits home more often than not, but leaves a little to be desired, gently easing its message home, rather than hammering, as is needed here.  There are enough glimmers of potential though to make this something that you should indeed keep watching.

Dirty little secrets, dirty little lies,
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody's pies,
We love to cut you down to size,
We love dirty laundry.1

The story is one of those that hasnít happened as far as we know, but very easily could, because it takes already existent elements to an extreme that has yet to be reached, but that we know and fear could.  Two Eastern European thugs come to America in search of their American dreams, each having a different opinion on what that is.  For Emil, itís the retrieval of his cut of the money from a bank robbery and for Oleg, the money is secondary to the fulfillment of his version of the American dream fostered by a viewing of Itís A Wonderful Life (he even goes so far as to refer to himself as Frank Capra repeatedly).  As expected though, something goes horribly wrong, and the two end up in a string of crimes, which have also been videotaped by the voyeuristic Oleg.  Their web spins out of control when they seek out the witness to one of their crimes, and also focus on their main pursuers, famed detective Eddie Flemyng and  short tempered fire inspector Jordy.  During the subsequent chase and spree, the two are submerged into the culture that thrives on negativity, talk shows on sordid subjects, news shows that dish out dirt, and a public that seems to thrive on the crimes and criminals rather than the victim.

 ďIn America, no one is responsible for what they doĒ

The film hits more than it misses, and is at its best when it shows just how much influence what we see can have on what we do.  Emil watches, with near obsessive vigor, an episode of a daytime talk show where a father blames his problems on low self-esteem, his internal flames are fanned further when he sees a magazine article on a criminal (convicted by DeNiro) who was declared insane, then claimed innocence once committed.  The dollar signs and fame are nearly blinding in his eyes, and the continued filming drives this desire even more. Then you have a perfect representation of why these two continue their spree, when DeNiro is chasing them and the police through downtown NYC and Oleg takes great pains to keep the camera filming and focused.  Throw in a later scene with Burns, channel surfing and seeing even the smallest participant gaining a large amount of fame, and you have the magically dead on social commentary that this movie wanted to make.  Unfortunately, the film also results to typical cop/robber style plot twists and devices that only distract and slightly dilute the power of what could have been.  The film wants to show the darker side of the mediaís societal relationship and influence that was touched on films like EdTV and The Truman Show. 15 minutes really doesnít weigh in completely on the matter, but rather shows both sides of the story, weighing in that criminals exist in the world, but can be fueled on and driven to another level by the notoriety that could result from their actions.  Director Herzfeld seemed to wander back and forth between light comedy, action and commentary.  He gives his performers enough to work with, but none really standout while doing so.  Grammer is good at being a conceited tabloid news reporter, and DeNiro can always play a cop, but each lacked that little bite required.  The only standouts are two newcomers, Vera Farmiga (as a witness pursued by the two) and Oleg Taktarov (an ultimate fighting champion veteran) each of whom stand out by their expressive face and piercing blue eyes.  They fit into the role, and have their moments, but are never really convincing completely in their attempt at realistic portrayals. 

We can do the innuendo, we can dance and sing.
When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing.

Ultimately, 15 Minutes becomes an exercise in conflicted commentary whose message comes across clear, but not very loud.  Just as the film depicts the moral argument and conflict regarding whether criminals are born, or made and influenced by what they see, the movie itself is also conflicted in its execution and delivery of the story.  On one side, there are moments of sharp criticism, such as the parade of the after effects of individual parties involved in the crimes.  Unfortunately, there are also stereotypical plot devices; typical to cops versus bad guys films.  There is the hothead who throws caution to the wind, the use of children and women to elicit sympathy, and the token pretty face that serves little purpose but to be a trophy and showcase.  The overall effect works, but is greatly diluted by Herzfeld's inability to take it to the next level.  He has the potential to do so, since heís exposed the dark underbelly of existence before in the 2 Days in The Valley, and the Amy Fisher story, but he stumbles just slightly en route to making his statement here.  One thing is for sure, itís a movie that will leave you talking, and thinking, but not for as long as it should.  Like the fame and saying that it represents, 15 Minutes leaves it mark successfully, but may get lost amidst its own actions and shortcomings.  ($$$ out of $$$$)

1 - Dirty Laundry (1985) performed and written by Don Henley

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