15 Minutes

15 Minutes (2001)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert De Niro, Avery Brooks, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Kim Cattrall, Melina Kanakaredes
Extras: Infinifilm Feature, Commentary Track, Tabloid TV Featurette, “Does Crime Pay?

There has been a lot of talk lately concerning media violence and censorship. Hollywood has been under the scrutiny of the government and there has been a general trend in movies and television to pull in the reins on violent material. Given all of the press that this topic has gotten, it was inevitable that the subject would become the subject of a movie. "15 Minutes" takes a look at the way that crime and violence are portrayed on television and the direct effect that this can have on society, and more importantly, criminals. "15 Minutes" is the second release in New Line’s highly touted Infinifilm series, following the impressive "Thirteen Days" (what’s next "Seventeen Seconds"?).

"15 Minutes" introduces the viewer to four distinct storylines, which all begin to intersect as the film progresses. As the movie opens, we meet two immigrants, a Czech, Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and a Russian, Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov), entering the United States. They have entered the country to find an old friend who owes them money. We are next introduced to tabloid TV reporter Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), whose motto is "If it bleeds, it leads." This man craves high ratings and will put anything on television to get them. His greatest coup has been his relationship with New York police detective Eddie Fleming (Robert De Niro), who has become famous due to his high-profile arrests. While Fleming enjoys his notoriety, he’s more interested in finding the time to propose to his girlfriend, played by Melina Kanakaredes.

Oleg is obsessed with movies and the first thing that he does when he reaches Manhattan is to steal a high-end video camera. He then uses it to videotape a murder committed by Emil. To cover their tracks, Emil and Oleg burn the bodies. Arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Ed Burns) responds to the fire, where he meets Fleming. They determine that the fire was intentionally set to cover a murder and reluctantly decide to work together to find the killers. Meanwhile, Oleg and Emil have learned that there was a witness to the murder and they will stop at nothing to silence her. The evil Emil continues his murder spree and Oleg captures it all with his ever present camera. Based on what they’ve seen on American television, Oleg and Emil decide that they can use their shocking footage to become famous and then plead insanity. And after seeing Robert Hawkins’ show, they know that they’ve found the perfect outlet for their little movie. It’s now up to Fleming and Warsaw to stop the murderers and foil their plans to exploit exploitation TV.

"15 Minutes" works very well as an action-thriller, but its intended message gets lost in all of the noise. The best way to watch this film is to simply turn off your brain and enjoy the ride. Writer/director John Herzfeld has made an earnest attempt at showing how the media can influence society, but unfortunately that message gets lost in all of the violence and carnage which is rolled out by the movie. (Herzfeld actually talks about this in the commentary.) And while the murder sequences are very effective, they seemingly conflict with the moral center of the film, making it difficult to take the film’s message seriously.

That point aside, "15 Minutes" is a fun movie. De Niro and Burns have a good on-screen chemistry, and the film sets itself apart from the competition by putting a fireman in the heroic role. Herzfeld moves things along at a nice pace and his whirling-dervish camera is rarely still. He also makes good use of the video footage shot by the Oleg character. Some of the story is predictable, but there is a truly shocking plot-twist at the halfway point that I did not see coming, which sucks the viewer into the movie for good. Roden and Taktarov are truly creepy as the villains, to the point that their actions, at times, are almost unbearable. "15 Minutes" certainly doesn’t re-define the buddy-cop, or cop-fireman film, but it’s a respectable entry into the genre, which offers fast-paced action, good performances, and a politically viable message.

As an entry into New Line’s Infinifilm series, one would expect no less than perfection from the "15 Minutes" DVD, and truly, that is what is delivered. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. The image is nearly pristine, showing only the slightest hint of grain during the daytime exterior shots. The image has a nice depth of field, made all the more breath-taking by the wonderful colors on the image. The realistic hues, combined with the realistic fleshtones, make for a very vivid picture. There is no distortion or noise on the image, and the framing appears to be accurate. The image shows no signs of artifacting, nor any problems caused by compression. As usual, New Line has delivered a stunning transfer.

Not to be outdone, the audio is exceptional as well. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> surround track reveals many layers to the audio of the film. Besides the usual explosions, car crashes, and crowd noise, this surround track even goes as far as to break down the film’s score by Anthony Marinelli and J. Peter Robinson into its individual components, to be distributed among the various channels. The track has an impressive soundfield and the on-screen to speaker sound placement is impeccable. Of course, all of this sonic mayhem never drowns out the dialogue, which is crisp and free from distortion. Some early press materials noted that the DVD would contain a <$DTS,DTS> track, but no such track appears on the final product due to space limitations on the disc.

Of course, the most impressive part of an Infinifilm DVD is the Infinifilm experience itself. With the Inifinifilm option, while watching the movie, prompts will appear at the bottom of the screen, taking the viewer to special features, which deal directly with the scene being viewed. Most of the features offered can be found elsewhere on the DVD, but certain items, here such as scene rehearsals or quotes from experts, can only be had while in Infinifilm mode. Of course, one should only view the film in this mode after having seen the film all the way through. It would detract from the story to constantly stop and view these enlightening extras. The good thing is that one can watch the film in Infinifilm mode and listen to the <$commentary,audio commentary> at the same time. Of course, this could lead to information overload!

The special features on the "15 Minutes" DVD are broken up into two sections. The "All Access Pass" section brings us more traditional DVD extras. We start with an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director/writer John Herzfeld. Herzfeld is a very energetic speaker and gives scene specific comments throughout the film. And while some of his chat is redundant ("OK, now he’s opening the wallet…he’s looking inside…"), he does dispense a great deal of information concerning his inspiration for the film and how he went about researching it. He also has a good memory for location and is always full of praise for his cast and crew. Herzfeld also lends commentary to seven deleted or extended scenes (which can also be watched without the commentary). These scenes run about twelve minutes and reveal two subplots, which were cut from the film. One four-minute deleted scene involves a chase, which takes place in a theater that looks just like the one from "Last Action Hero".

The DVD also contains over ten minutes of unedited video shot by Oleg Taktarov for two murder scenes. I’d love to tell you more about this, but I’d give away two much of the story! Next, we have a music video by "God Lives Underwater" performing a cover of Bowie’s "Fame". While this song sounds good and delivers a nice bass-response, interested parties should check out their album "Empty" for an appropriate introduction to the band. The theatrical trailer is included here and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and has Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. It should be noted that the trailer’s tagline "The killing won’t stop until you stop watching" is incredibly misleading. Finally, we have cast & crew filmographies.

The other set of special features reside under the heading "Beyond the Movie". These features look at the film from a "real world" perspective. We start with a featurette entitled "15 Minutes of True Tabloid Stars", which features comments from the likes of Maury Povich, Deborah Norville, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Jerry Springer. Here, they explore the history of tabloid TV and discuss how it has evolved. They relate their talk to "15 Minutes" by exploring how home videos have become the cornerstone of tabloid TV. Sally summarizes by saying "It’s very easy to get a rating by being exploitive." This eye-opening segment does a good job of peeling back the veneer of TV and looking at the true morals behind the players. The second featurette is a 21-minute segment called "Does Crime Pay?". This features a round-table discussion with Mark Fuhrman, Gloria Allred, Aphrodite Jones (isn’t that a Blaxploitation movie?), Ted Haimes, and Stan Goldman. This panel looks at crime in America and whether or not criminals can profit from their notoriety and they also look at the success of the insanity plea. They cite many real-life cases, and offer their opinions on what happens when crime leads to fame, for both the criminal and the victim. The nice thing about both of these featurettes is that the participants have all seen "15 Minutes" and are able to tie their discussion back into the film. This isn’t just some random talk that sort of pertains to the film, but rather an in-depth look at how the film was "real". Kudos to New Line for making these features so cohesive.

The final extra is called "Fact Track", and it works like a "Pop Up Video", offering details about the actors, locations, and real-life influences of the film. As with the <$commentary,audio commentary>, the "Fact Track" option can be on while viewing the Infinifilm mode. Therefore, the brave can have the commentary, the "Fact Track", and Infinifilm all going at the same time! I did find it unusual that with all of these great extras, there wasn’t a behind-the-scenes featurette, which explored the making of the film.

While "15 Minutes" may not make the overwhelming political statement that it set out to, it still comes across as a fine and gripping action film. The movie is only enhanced by all of the great extras on this DVD, and the very impressive audio and video transfer. We all can learn a lesson from the movie. If you’re going to send a video to a TV show, make it "America’s Funniest Home Videos."