If you had Andy Warhol‘s days, we were content with the 15 minutes of notoriety that TV or newspapers could give us, today, the protagonists of this 2001 movie would be satisfied with even a handful of seconds in some social media video.
Indeed, this story of extreme capitalism and madness begins with friends Emil Slovak and Oleg Razgul, two Russian immigrants newly arrived in New York.
They were once part of a much larger criminal gang, but today, they are mavericks who just want their share of a heist carried out many years earlier in Eastern Europe.
When their former partner does not want to give them the money they are owed, Emil explodes with rage and kills him along with his wife, while Oleg films everything with the camera that, as a film buff, he has been carrying ever since they arrived in America.
After the murder, Emil also torches the apartment along with every possible piece of evidence, using his experience as a former firefighter to best conceal their crime.
However, one witness survives the massacre: young Daphne, who was a guest of the couple and taken into custody by renowned New York detective Eddie Flemming and young firefighter Jordy Warsaw, who are working together for the first time on this very case.
Meanwhile, Emil can’t believe the big fuss over the murder and fire, so he hatches a plan to capitalize on the notoriety and make as much money as possible from Oleg’s videos.
To get to the top of their game, the two Russian friends decide to kidnap the famous Flemming, who is much loved by the community, and then brutally kill him on camera and sell the video to the highest bidder.
Beautiful America without mercy
15 Minutes is a movie that focuses on the media’s harshness and apathy, a false and ruthless world that does not appear to have changed much since 2001.
At the same time, they ridicule and cause trouble to the police or the firefighting protagonist, despite risking his life several times to stop the two psychopaths, rewarding the criminals by covering them with money to have exclusivity on their stories.
As an expert in the action genre, John Herzfeld is at home directing and writing this fascinating blend of adventure and social satire with an added enthusiasm for filmmaking as Oleg Taktarov, unquestionably my favorite actor in the cast.
Unfortunately, harsh press and most reviews went hand in hand with poor box office results, failing to cover even the $60 million production cost.
I really regretted this failure because the inseparable relationship between crime and the media, though simplified, is told with a pleasing unpredictability factor by the two Russian criminals, who at first may seem like stereotypical characters but instead are a perfect description of the perception of foreigners in a particular cut of American culture.
Herzfeld plays precisely on the audience’s prejudices, showing cruel violence in a pure television series style, alternating the criminal hand camera to the more refined sequence plans for the police officers, to the fast mounting that exasperates the whirlwind of madness that concludes the story.
Perhaps some people don’t like to hear again and again what they already know (or deny with all their might) about the relentless pursuit of fame, the bloody cannibalism of the media and the American justice system, fundamental pillars of a nation that at times seems deeply broken from the ground up.
Great cast for great entertainment
The two pairs of protagonists and antagonists are equally good, even if I prefer the devastating Karel Roden as the psychopathic Emil and Oleg Taktarov, loading an almost childlike naivety into the cinema enthusiast Oleg.
Two tourists unleash their fury on a bloody holiday in America as if they were the dark exaltation of the desire to reach the summit in the cradle of the capitalist world, pursuing the goal of becoming rich and famous at any cost.
As for the side of the good guy, we have the usually extraordinary Robert De Niro, here as an experienced and cunning detective, though a bit too vain and a victim of his notoriety as New York’s most famous bureaucrat.
At his side, we have the still young and honest Edward Burns, who still believes in democracy and justice before he begins his long journey to hell-hunting criminals.
Finally, we have the two women of the story, Melina Kanakaredes and Vera Farmiga, respectively, De Niro’s journalist-lover and the key witness who instead falls in love with Burns, into an affair that will unfortunately never truly begin.
Although they are secondary roles, these actresses soften with their femininity and simplicity of a crude and destructive story, along with the short cameo of the always gorgeous Charlize Theron and Kim Cattrall.
Each of these characters, as the title of the movie, has its 15 minutes of glory in an exciting parable anticipating the obsession of celebrity already in 2001, at the dawn of social networks and reality shows, as if it was even too early on the actual world.
Indeed, the two criminals exploit an existing system in which the crowd loves serial killers as if they were movie stars and then become much more famous than the cops who stop them.