New Line Home Cinema presents
15 Minutes (2001)
"Who else but crazy men would film their crimes?"- Emil (Karl Roden)
Stars: Robert DeNiro, Edward Burns
Other Stars: Kelsey Grammer, Avery Brooks, Melina Kanakaredes, Vera Farmiga, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Charlize Theron
Director: John Herzfeld
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, and some sexuality
Run Time: 02h:00m:32s
Release Date: 2001-08-14
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewLast year, I took a course on media ethics. The basic conundrum? How far do you go for the news, and what, exactly, constitutes a subject worthy of report. Should photos of a family grieving over the body of their drowned child be published? Is it a deterrent? Or is it an invasion of the family's privacy, used to inspire pathos and sell papers? The same can be said of tabloid journalism. Is the O.J. Simpson case really something that should've occupied hundreds of hours of news reports? Shows like Hard Copy thrive on stories of celebrity scandal and murder, but they never ask if they are informing the public or simply offering an explicit, titillating display. 15 Minutes is a hybrid action/thriller/satire that attempts to examine and comment on this very issue.
Two Eastern European men, Oleg and Emil, travel to America, intent on collecting their share from a bank robbery that happened years before. When their contact admits that he spent their share, Emil snaps and kills both the unfortunate thief and his wife while Oleg videotapes the whole thing. The two think they've found the secret to success in Americaˇthey'll go on a murdering spree and then sell the tapes of the killings to tabloid-like news shows and end up drowning in wealth and infamy. Investigating the murders is a veteran detective (DeNiro) and a hotshot fire marshal (Burns).
The basic premise is intriguing, and it would make an interesting thriller by itself, but into the characters has been breathed a clearly satirical bent. Oleg, for example, tapes all the murders because he fancies himself a film directorˇhe idolizes Frank Capra. To him, the killings aren't real, just spectacle. He plays the passive viewer, much as we do when we watch the average news story. Emil, meanwhile, isn't just killing for money. He has a twisted impression of fame in America, the result of his exposure to talk shows and tabloids. The easiest way for him to succeedˇthe American Wayˇis to gain notoriety through mayhem.
Robert DeNiro plays close to form with his character, Eddie, a New York detective and something of a celebrityˇafter he solved several high-profile cases, he was thrust into the national spotlight, featured in People and on the news. The attention has not been a total blessing, however, as his fellow officers resent his success and his celebrity, and the criminals know his face. Edward Burns is the opposite. He's young and ambitious, but he has no interest in the spotlight, despite his boss's insistence that he earn good PR for the fire department. This disparity between the two lead characters is note worthy, and by the end of the film, the distinction takes on an irony of its own.
John Herzfeld directed from his own script, and he does an excellent job balancing the ironic elements with a traditional thriller narrative. The pace never slows, and the situations play well as both serious and satiric. Unfortunately, he seems to lose his nerve here and there. When the film could've gone deeper into the farcical, he pulls back and takes a more familiar route. As such, several scenes seem to play a bit awkwardly, including one of the murders that is accompanied by a jaunty, almost comedic score. If the murder was shot in a style to match the music, it would have made a more cohesive whole. Instead, the result is jarring and less effective than it could've been. Still, for the most part, this is a very solid film in terms of both the script and the direction.
The only real problems I had were rather surface. Kelsey Grammer overacts, playing his heartless ratings-seeking newsman as Fraiser Crane to the nth degree. He goes over the top, and while his performance might have worked if the rest of the film were as overstated, here he seems out of place. I also felt a bit mixed on the ending. I was disappointed when I noticed that it was following a traditional, somewhat cliched course, and while it failed to deviate, there was a final artistic touch that I quite liked, and which redeemed things somewhat.
15 Minutes didn't do too well in theaters, but it probably deserved to. The gritty, depressing, and yet comic tone may have put off many audiences, but the questions the film raises are valid ones. How far will the newsmagazines go for ratings? Already we've been assaulted with talk of the president's sexual proclivities and with non-news about murders involving celebrities. And what effect do these stories have on the viewersˇthe Emils, the Olegs, and the average American? The events in 15 Minutes may seem outlandish to some, but to me, they seem all too probable.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: New Line's transfers are always just about as good as they come. Aside from a few minor flaws, 15 Minutes looks great. The film has a dark, gritty feel that is well represented by the excellent black level and shadow detail. The colors look appropriately muted, in line with the directors vision, but that's not to say the transfer is dullˇat times, the screen lights up with burst of gaudy, colorful imagery. Artifacting is not a problem, despite the abundance of features on the disc, but a few scenes did look a bit grainy and digital. Edge-enhancement isn't a huge problem, but the ringing effect is still noticeable here and there (but just barely).
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: After nearly a hundred reviews on this site, I've reviewed my fair share of New Line discs, and it gets harder and harder to write the technical portions for their discs, because more often than not, they are darn near reference quality. 15 Minutes has an excellent audio mix, and it was even reedited for the home theater to sound even better. The surrounds are used constantly but not showilyˇto serve to totally integrate you into the hustle and bustle of the film. Directional effects are plentiful, and split surrounds and spatial imaging add to the realistic feel of the track. During the film's softer moments, the score fills out the surrounds and the LFE channel quite nicely. On the other hand, while the dialogue was always understandable, it seemed to be a bit muffled and too low in the mix during several scenes (the first murder, for example). This is unfortunate, since the disc lacks a subtitle track, but that's the only negative thing I have to say about this laudable mix.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John Herzfeld
Layers Switch: 01h:42m:01s
- Fact and trivia subtitle track
- "Oleg's Videos" Video footage captured from the actor's perspective
- God Lives Underwater music video for Fame
Another hallmark of the line is an emphasis on features that not only deal directly with the film, but with the reality behind it as well. Thus, the two documentaries present on this disc don't cover the making of 15 Minutesˇrather, they examine the social questions at its heart. 15 Minutes of True Tabloid Stars is a brief but interesting piece that offers the insiders word on the tabloid journalism scene, right from the mouths of the shows' hosts and writers. Some seem to take a "holier than thou" approach, while others, like Jerry Springer, openly admit that what they provide is all trash and spectacle. Whatever helps you sleep better at night, huh? Does Crime Pay? is the more in-depth of the two, and it features a panel of experts discussing the legal system in America in terms of the questions raised in the film. Not everyone is in agreement as to the plausibility of some of what goes on, which I find a bit disturbing. Overall, this 25-minute feature is rather dry, but worth a look for those interested in the factual side of the story.
Writer/director John Herzfeld offers a commentary track for the feature, and I found it to be somewhat of a mixed bag. As with almost every other track I've heard, he discusses the genesis of the story and explains how the actors got involved. He also discusses what he believes are the film's most compelling questions. Unfortunately, he is a bit on the dull side, and though he speaks consistently, he never really sounds animated. He also spends quite a bit of time describing the action on-screen (although this problem doesn't really become apparent until you listen to his thoughts on the deleted scenes). Overall, what I'd call an average track.
Speaking of deleted scenes, six are present (all with optional commentary). All are very brief. Three focus on a slight expansion of the Emil character, including a more complete look at his past. They were obviously cut to avoid making the character too sympathetic, but they aren't bad either. Two of the remaining scenes amount to little more that window-dressingˇsmall character moments, one with Robert DeNiro and one with Oleg Tartakov. The final scene cut was an overlong and redundant action scenes, with an elaborate but unnecessary chase. And as I said, don't bother with the commentaryˇit might as well be labeled "descriptive service for the visually impaired."
A fact and subtitle track runs during the feature. This type of thing has been done before on discs like The Abyss and Frequency, and I quite like the idea. The information runs the gamut from odd facts to anecdotes about the actors. However, this track was apparently included at the expense of normal subtitles, and as much as I enjoyed it, I think the traditional route would have been a wiser decision.
A rather curious section houses "Oleg's Videos." These are the video snippets of film that were shot on-set by Oleg. Some of the footage is in the film, but this is it, raw and uncut. They are a bit off-puttingˇseeing the murders flat and on video somehow makes them all the more chilling. Four different films (one for each of the murders) are present.
Finally, the more mundane features include the trailer (which ran before every movie I saw for about three monthsˇI had parts of it memorized), cast bios, and a music video from the band God Lives Underwater. The song is, alas, far less memorable that the group's name.
Overall, this is a nice set of features, but nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I like the focus on the reality behind the film, and the added interactivity of the Infinifilm system.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsMaybe it received poor initial reviews and garnered only mild success at the box office, but, months later, 15 Minutes seems to have been unjustly overlookedˇit's certainly one of the most thought-provoking Hollywood films thus far this year. It isn't near flawless, but it is, at least, about something, and it succeeds in blending elements of action, suspense, and satire. And by granting the film a place of honor in the new Infinifilm line, New Line has done its part to make the DVD worth a purchase.
Joel Cunningham 2001-07-30