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Dustin Putman

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15 Minutes (2001)
3 Stars

Directed by John Herzfeld
Cast: Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Kelsey Grammer, Melina Kanakaredes, Vera Farmiga, Avery Brooks, John DiResta, Darius McCrary, James Handy, Charlize Theron, Bruce Cullen, David Alan Grier, Kim Cattrall.
2001 – 120 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, profanity, gore, sexual situations, and nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 10, 2001.

In today's day and age, when it seems like a progressive amount of people are committing extreme criminal acts in order to, at least in part, become famous (i.e. last week's San Diego high school shooting), writer-director John Herzfeld's "15 Minutes" stands as a timely, thoughtful motion picture. Taking a satirical, if on-the-mark, look at the outrageous lengths some people will go to get their fifteen minutes of fame (a term coined by Andy Warhol), as well as their learned savviness thanks to the media around them, the film is an intense, well-written thriller that, for once, has more of a purpose than to simply entertain. It actually has a brain in its head, and a sharply observed '70s-era sensibility that recalls such classic films as "The Parallax View," "The French Connection," and "Dog Day Afternoon."

The second that the scummy Czech immigrant Emil (Karel Roden) and Russian movie-lover Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) step foot into America, hell starts to break loose. Equipped with a snazzy video camera that Oleg steals, he and Emil set out on a precisely-planned, murderous rampage throughout Manhattan that includes stabbings, beatings, shootings, and arson to anyone they feel like doing it to. Their purpose is very simple: to commit enough murders to catapult them to the top of every media outlet in the world, intentionally get caught, plead that they were the subjects of physical abuse growing up, get acquitted, and reap in loads of money on movie and book deals.

After a fatal building fire, arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) meets famed homicide detective Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), who has been assigned to the case. They soon team up together to investigate the string of killings that have begun to escalate in the city, with Eddie not knowing Oleg and Emil already are familiar with his celebrity, and have plans of their own for him.

Always involving and often exciting and downright unsettling, "15 Minutes" is a bravura police/media drama that has been written and directed by John Herzfeld (1996's "2 Days in the Valley") with a clear precision that offers up more than the usual glossy, mainstream grab-bag of senseless action and pointless violence. The picture is clever and knowing in its attitudes about violence in the U.S., and the effects their outcome have on the criminals themselves. It also has plot developments that, for once, are not easily predicted (including a twist at the beginning of the second half that is absolutely shocking), and the strengths of these, as well as the thought-provoking material dealt with, are able to overcome many of the weaknesses found in the uneven character development.

While Robert De Niro (2000's "Men of Honor") and Edward Burns (1998's "Saving Private Ryan") both start off with a somewhat shaky, unfocused grasp on their roles of Ed Flemming and Jordy Warsaw, respectively, they manage to strengthen the evolution of both personalities by the film's latter half. Burns, especially, starts off with a noticeable blandness, but somehow transforms along the way to the conclusion into a striking, memorable character.

The stars of the film, however, are Eastern European newcomers Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov, whose frightening, unhinged bad guys turn out to be the center of the movie. Arresting every second they are onscreen, Roden and Taktarov are utterly talented finds that will hopefully find more film work based on what they have accomplished here.

In supporting roles, Melina Kanakaredes (TV's "Providence") shows much promise as news reporter Nicolette Karas, who is also carrying on a romance with Eddie. Nicolette is not given an overly generous amount of screen time, but Kanakaredes makes the best of it, fleshing out her character into a sympathetic, realistic individual. Kelsey Grammer is okay as tabloid show anchor Robert Hawkins, successfully getting rid of his "Frasier" image, but is so one-dimensional that he spends his time making little to no impression, or going over-the-top. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron (2001's "Sweet November") makes a splashy cameo as the black-wigged worker of an escort service.

What ultimately makes "15 Minutes" such a success is its willingness to try novel techniques not seen in many years that throw the viewer off balance, making them unsure, and sometimes even a bit nervous, of what is to come next. Not only that, but it is one of those rare recent thrillers that doesn't go the easy route, nor does it present a nonsensical and exploitative storyline for mainstream mass consumption. "15 Minutes" actually has something to say, and it says it remarkably well.

©2001 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman