With 15 Minutes, writer/ director John Herzfeld (Two Days in the Valley, Don King: Only in America) takes aim at an easy, if deserving target; the intersection of crime, sleaze and television and the resulting "fame" the trio can bring. The result is a successful film made more worthwhile by its commentary.
Hershfeld explained the core question the film asks himself during a recent visit to Boston, "Is the media feeding the public’s appetite for violent stories or are they encouraging it? I think journalists have a very tough job today. On the one hand, they’ve got to let the people know what’s going on on our streets today- people have got a right to know. But on the same point I hope they’re not influencing some nutcase who’s out there that wants to get into the spotlight and will commit a heinous act of violence to become a celebrity."
It’s the latter scenario that drives the film. A couple of Eastern Europeans arrive in New York, Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov– yes, the guy from the Ultimate Fighting Championships) and pay a visit to an old acquaintance They’re visiting in order to get their hands on some heist money they’re owed. Being that they’ve just gotten out of prison for the crime they’re none too happy finding out that there’s no money to be had. So, the visit ends badly. Badly enough that arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Ed Burns) and media darling homicide detective Eddie Fleming (DeNiro) converge on the scene. Partnering up in surprisingly typical buddy movie fashion, the two then find themselves on the trail of two killers who’ve discovered a disturbing variation of the American Dream, kill a bunch of people, videotape it, plead insanity and reap the rewards.
The film, as a whole, is sort of a mixed bag. Parts are excellent. The thematic examinations are excellent and the film will certainly draw out some conversation,, which is always good. The cinematography and editing are also interesting and nicely augment the themes at play. Hand held DV (from Taktarov’s perspective- he’s the crime spree film’s "director",) news footage and 35 mm are all at work and are used effectively. The performances are also excellent. Taktarov and Roden are fantastic together as the ruthless killers. Hershfeld himself had praise for their work, "they elevated those roles, they were better than I conceived them." As you’d expect DeNiro is his usual self, pulling off the a written-with-him-in- mind role with ease and pulls Burns up alongside him for good measure. The two work well together, although the way in which they interact is probably my least favorite thing about the film. They have a very typical, almost pat, buddy movie relationship. There are twists in the film that may serve to justify that take- it may heighten their effect, but I still was left feeling like the pairing was a little light, especially in comparison to the rest of the movie.
All in all, Fifteen Minutes is an interesting film and one that should be seen if you’ve got any interest in the sometimes disturbing evolution of our media landscape.
This article was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in March 2001.