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Reality TV has been the flavour of the past couple of years. Shows like Survivor and Temptation Island drew large audiences purely because a new genre had been born, something that for many provided a break from the dramas and sitcoms we had all been accustomed to. And with this newfound popularity the inevitable flow-on of dark satires began to emerge. Fifteen Minutes, along with the equally black Series 7, looks at society’s infatuation with watching real people on the television screen, with very interesting consequences. Can criminals circumvent prosecution with legal loopholes and reality television? Some key issues are raised, that do a lot more to get us thinking than any tribal council ever will.

Emil and Oleg are two criminals who have just been released from prison. Intent on revenge (as most unrepentant ex-prisoners seem to be) they head off to find their former partner and teach him the ultimate lesson. With a sloppy attempt to cover up the evidence using arson the two men attract the attention of Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) due to the fire and Eddie Fleming (Robert De Niro) because of the two sizzled bodies left behind. As all good cop stories go these two don’t really mix well from the beginning but start to work together once Emil and Oleg continue their crime spree. It seems that someone witnessed the murder and is now on the run from the two men, with Oleg stealing a video camera on the way to document their path of destruction. They think that by recording their feats and selling them to a television network they can make millions and still escape jail by virtue of insanity. This is their chance to become stars, their chance to stand out from the rest. This is their 15 minutes. Not the most watertight of stories but it works. A budding filmmaker who models himself on good ol’ Frank Capra, Oleg is used as a tool throughout the film to highlight the public’s obsession with reality television and also helps to make the film stand out against rest of the big budget crime flicks of recent times.

Exchanging happy snaps
There was an obvious choice to use two unknown actors in the criminal roles. This was extremely wise, as I don’t think the film would have had the same dark character if we were watching, say, Edward Norton and Ben Affleck tear up the streets and set houses alight. Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov, who play Emil and Oleg respectively, do a great job at deflecting the focus from their faces into their actual personalities and crimes. The two investigators, on the other hand, are played well by Burns and De Niro although these types of “cop” roles are a dime a dozen these days. Nevertheless, the two seem to gel particularly well together, with Burns showing everyone he’s definitely an actor on the up. The best bit part goes to Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer who was perfectly cast as the ruthless television host who will stop at nothing to get his exclusive, including perverting the course of justice. An interesting spin on a decent story.  

The ending to the film does teeter on the plain side of things but is saved well by a stroke of great humour on the part of the highly entertaining Oleg. While there’s probably a few holes in the story you could find if you tried hard enough there’s nothing seriously wrong with a film that drags you into the action and keeps you there. This is largely thanks to some adventurous filming techniques and a breakneck pace that is established extremely early in the narrative. Director John Herzfeld does a great job of handling the tricky task of combining the digital video footage shot by Oleg and the live action stuff shot on film.

Possibly the greatest bugbear is the pitiful side story involving Eddie and his love interest, Nicolette. This does nothing for the story and only serves in slowing down the pace before it picks up once again in the next scene. Love interest sub-plots are always fraught with danger and this one is definitely more miss than hit.

Aside from that you’re looking at a very interesting film that deals with some great issues and brings out solid performances all around.

Sit back and enjoy the film cause this transfer can’t be faulted. Sharpness is absolutely top notch and will be the benchmark for future discs for a long while. While the cinematography does not allow for an overly ambitious use of colours during the film, the apparent blue wash that the movie takes on is rendered perfectly with no signs of artefacts, aliasing or edge enhancement.

Even the video footage shot by Oleg holds up extremely well, with the usual video blur being kept to a minimum and all of the detail maintained. A lesser quality transfer could have done major harm to the disc because of the eventual strain while watching the digital camera footage. Thankfully this one is way up the other end of the spectrum, with nothing even remotely distracting included in the transfer.

Presented in 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced there is nothing wrong with the look of this DVD, save only for a minimalist use of colours which is more a design choice than a transfer fault.

"Heads I win, tails you lose...."
The disc includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a DTS 5.1 track that is almost identical to the Dolby sound mix. Maybe someone with a keener pair of ears could notice a difference but everything seemed to be on par with the other. Nevertheless, the audio is of high quality without being groundbreaking. The DTS track, incidentally, is not present on the Infinifilm region one release, so for once the DVD lovers down-under are getting a better deal. Yippee!!

There are no problems with the dialogue to speak of and the action scenes, though somewhat few, do use a fair amount of surrounds to drag you in. Ambient sounds are used quite well during the crowded city sequences and really add to the feel of the film. The sub is also worked quite well when called upon, making this soundtrack quite decent on the ears.

This is an impressive extras package that uses a few different supplements to really add weight to the disc. Included are some stunning animated menus that carry on the television theme. Even the extremely difficult scene selection menus look brilliant. A great start to the extra features department. But wait…there’s more.

First up we have two documentaries entitled True Tabloid Stars and Does Crime Pay. The former features real-life reporters who discuss their conduct in relation to the film while the latter documentary uses a discussion between writers, lawyers and the like on the real-life implications of the story. Both are extremely interesting to watch and are a welcome addition to the disc. It’s good to see some discussion on the textual merit of the film that, if done correctly, can really get the viewer thinking a lot more about the story. Probably not relevant for the Bring It On type films out there, or anything to do with Freddie Prinze Jr, but for this flick it works quite well.

Next up is a Director’s Commentary from John Herzfeld which imparts some good information regarding the story and the actors and only occasionally strays into the on-screen description area. Very interesting to listen to as there are plenty of things to talk about with this one.

It's A Wonderful Life
The Deleted Scenes are a collection of 6 cuts which also include the option of a commentary which does help in explaining the reasons for their omission. Some decent quality stuff in here, worth a look.

A different addition to the disc is the footage from Oleg’s video camera, shot by the actor during production. Some of this vision has been seen in the feature but these two pieces showing two of the murders is unedited and quite interesting to look at. That’s if you can bear looking at a wobbly camera for five minutes.

Also included on the disc are some rehearsal scenes, music video, theatrical trailer and cast crew biographies, rounding out a very detailed package. Enjoy!

Note: The Infinifilm region 1 version does contain a feature where you can access the special features during the film via a special menu. This is not present on the region 4 release but is offset by a DTS soundtrack, but admittedly it’s not all that different from the Dolby Digital sound mix. No big loss with the Infinifilm stuff though.

A very interesting piece that doesn’t cover much new ground in terms of action and drama but does deal with slightly unique subject matter brought about by the recent interest in watching live footage, no matter what the content. Some great issues are again pushed forward with this film and the look of the package is extremely impressive. Add to that a decent sound mix and packed extras department and you’ve got yourself a brilliant DVD that will be entertaining well beyond the couple of hours running time. A great disc for your collection.