Neil Young’s Film Lounge – 15 Minutes



US 2001
dir/scr John Herzfeld
cin Jean-Yves Escoffier
stars Edward Burns, Robert De Niro, Karel Roden, Kelsey Grammer
120 minutes

15 Minutes starts off as a Robert De Niro cop thriller, then halfway through it suddenly becomes an Edward Burns media satire: this isn’t a positive development. But Herzfeld clearly isn’t interested in anything quite as lowbrow as a basic cop thriller. He wants to use this crowd-pleasing format to make an important, serious movie about important, serious issues, but doesn’t have sufficient skill either as a director or a writer to pull it off. A shame – if he’d stuck to the basic cop stuff, he might have ended up with an unremarkable but enjoyable little genre movie. But, as with his 1996 debut Two Days in the Valley, he tries to be way too clever and the results leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Not for the first time, however, De Niro soars above his directors shortcomings, delivering a refreshingly down-to-earth performance after his recent string of outlandish characters and accents. Its a pleasure to see him pounding the old Manhattan beat – this time he’s celebrity cop Eddie Fleming, a hard-nosed veteran with an eye for the media. He joins forces with arson investigator Jordy (the aptly-named Burns) on the trail of a pair of murderous immigrants from Eastern Europe, Emil (Roden) and Oleg (Oleg Taktarov). 15 Minutes pays initially-promising attention to the unusual ethnic backgrounds of these modern New Yorkers whether Scots (Fleming), Czech (Emil), Russian (Oleg), Greek (Flemings girlfriend). But Herzfeld doesn’t develop this idea its typical that the Polish surname he comes up with for Jordy is Warsaw.

Andy Warhol was also of Polish stock, of course, and its his dictum about the nature of fame that’s the unspoken drive behind Emils violent activities he has an eye on future book and movie deals, having been informed by a Cockney newspaper seller that It pays to be a killer in this cahn-tree. Oleg, meanwhile, films everything with a stolen digital camera, allowing Herzfeld to indulge in all manner of obtrusive visual tricks and cheap self-referential quips as this amateur director comments on the movie he’s shooting – if anything, Taktarov seems to have a better eye than Herzfeld himself. The pair offer the shocking tapes to sleazy TV news anchor Hawkins (Grammer) and the interface between crime, celebrity, punishment and retribution becomes very messy indeed

As does the movie as a whole, unfortunately. The further Herzfeld goes into the territory of Network and The Insider, the more crass and caricatured it all becomes. The plot developments grow increasingly ludicrous, right up to the laboured shoot-out finale in which the cardboard bad guys (sweaty, lip-smacking, Robert Carlyle-ish psycho Roden; sweatily immoral Grammer) get their desserts at the hands of whiter-than-white Burns. What about the victims? What about the families? he self-righteously yelps, and Herzfelds lurch from satire into clumsy political preaching is complete.

13th March, 2001

by Neil Young