Director: John Herzfeld
Cast: Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Melina Kanakaredes
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence, language and some sexuality)
Running Time: 2:00
Release Date: 3/9/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
Had it been released a few years ago, 15 Minutes would have played as satire, but in today’s culture of "reality" television, it works as a serious what-if scenario. Seven years ago, Natural Born Killers struck a nerve with its attack on violence and the media, and while not as successful as Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, 15 Minutes effectively hits many of the same notes.
It is scary that we can call a movie like 15 Minutes plausible, but the evidence is available in our society that we can call it such. We’ve known for a long time that the media exploits violence for ratings, but when we see a murder shown on primetime television in this movie, it makes you think that we may be closer to that situation becoming a reality than we should find acceptable. "60 Minutes" aired the death of a man whose suicide was assisted by Dr. Kevorkian. I also remember reading that a cable news network was covering a high-speed chase one morning, and when the driver stopped, he killed himself with the cameras rolling. It was broadcast live. I believe the network apologized, but does that excuse their actions?
15 Minutes intelligently studies the lack of responsibility in our society. In the film, two foreigners named Emil and Oleg (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) come to the United States to collect money from a robbery. When they discover the man holding the money for them has spent it all, Emil kills him and his wife while Oleg records the crime on a camcorder . Oleg has a dream of becoming a filmmaker; he particularly admires Frank Capra. Emil sees an opportunity.
Enter Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), a celebrity among the New York police. Eddie plays the media and its lust for ratings for his own gain. His thought: if he is famous, it will make his job just a little easier. He usually appears on a popular tabloid news show hosted by Robert Hawkins. Kelsey Grammer plays Hawkins, and he turns in a solid dramatic performance. Eddie is also romantically involved with a TV reporter (Melina Kanakaredes), and their relationship gives Eddie a human quality underneath the celebrity.
The first murder is covered up in a fire, and an arson investigator named Jordy (Edward Burns) shows Eddie the evidence that the fire was a homicide. The film is a surprisingly effective police procedural in these scenes. Jordy wants to be involved with the case, and Eddie takes him aboard to learn the ropes.
Intelligent thrillers are a rare commodity these days, and it is refreshing to see one again. There are some very intense scenes in the film, such as one where Burns’ character must save a woman from a burning apartment. However at the same time, the film doesn’t exploit its violent content for cheap thrills. The murders in the movie are not sensationalized; they are primitive and clumsy. The two do not enjoy killing, but they do try to manipulate the system.
The movie isn’t afraid to take on targets such as the media and our judicial system, and it raises some very important questions. Some I thought of were: Would a news program actually show a murder in primetime? I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually happens. Are we exporting an image of a U.S. that condones violence? We may be. Do some criminals play the insanity plea for their own personal gain? It’s possible. Should we eliminate the insanity plea? I would argue no, but I think the movie has a different opinion.
The movie is not without flaws. The tone near the end is confused. It attempts humor in scenes where it does not seem appropriate. The movie becomes a vigilante story in the last thirty minutes, and in this twist lies the film’s greatest flaw. Near the end, the movie takes a very subjective perspective on our criminal justice system. In the last scenes, the movie makes an argument that, while satisfying at a gut level, does not hold up to intelligent scrutiny. Ultimately, it makes the hero just as guilty as the criminals.
15 Minutes is a surprisingly intelligent thriller. It raises many questions about our society that are appropriate now more than ever. If it had not taken the vigilante turn or argued a solution, it could have been much more. Still, it forced me to think about many issues pertaining to our culture, which is much more than most movies bother to do.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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