Rated R - Running Time: 2:00 - Released 3/9/01

Fifteen Minutes is one of those good movies that could have been great if they had just made the script a little more credible. But dang it, they didn't. Written and directed by John Herzfeld (2 Days in the Valley), the film is truly gripping and features some well-crafted performances, and its primary message is altogether salient and thought-provoking. But the absurdity of a few important details impairs its ability to deliver that message.

The film stars Robert De Niro as Eddie Flemming, a New York investigator who has become locally famous through his regular appearance on a hard-hitting TV newsmagazine produced and anchored by the evilly opportunistic Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer). Hawkins is one of those two-faced TV reporters essayed so often in film, a man who would sell his own mother to get the story, whose motto is "if it bleeds, it leads." The popularity of the show, and of Eddie in particular, intrigues two Eastern European immigrants named Emil (Karel Roden) and Oleg (Oleg Taktarov), who love videotaping themselves almost as much as they love killing people. Hoping to capitalize on a perceived flaw in the American justice system, they plan to sell a tape of one of their murders to Hawkins and then plead insanity, thus avoiding prison and achieving their fifteen minutes of fame. Only in America. However, their scheme begins to go awry with the appearance of Eddie's friend, Fire Marshal Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns, Saving Private Ryan). While Jordy's lack of a badge prevents him from the kind of access accorded to Eddie, it also allows him to deal with the killers without that annoying hindrance of the law. But his feelings for a beautiful witness (Vera Farmiga) threaten to push him over the emotional edge and wreck his investigation, not to mention his career.

Fifteen Minutes makes, or attempts to make, a valid statement about the U.S. legal system, which does sometimes seem to cater more to the perpetrators of crimes than to the victims. It attacks in particular the oft-invoked "temporary insanity" plea (ah, yes, temporary insanity, the only medical condition discovered by lawyers instead of doctors — I believe the most common symptom is the itchy trigger finger) which is heard in so many murder cases. But Herzfeld's heavy-handed approach, with broadly drawn characters and frankly outrageous circumstances, pumps a little too much Hollywood into the situation for reality. In particular, Grammer's frothing media villain is too over-the-top to permit the suspension of disbelief, not so much because of the actor's performance as how the character is written. De Niro and Burns both give meaningful performances, however, and even more unsettlingly real are Roden and Taktarov as the Czech/Russian duo of killers whose differing opinions about who is running the show ultimately brings down the curtain. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail