Rating: R for extreme cruelty and violence
Run Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Bloody psychological terror meets the glare of media overexposure, in a contemporary nod to our country’s unwholesome love affair with tabloid-TV.
How far would you go for your fifteen minutes of fame? For ruthless, Eastern European psychopaths Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov) the answer is as far afield as it takes to achieve the American Dream. Slovak and Razgul arrive in the U.S. with only the clothes on their backs, eager to establish contact with a wayward acquaintance. Armed with a high-end video camera he lifted from a New York City electronics store, Razgul develops an eerily primal relationship with his equipment. A Russian man-child walking a fine line between darkness and lights, camera, action, recording Slovak’s every move. Unfortunately, Slovak’s cunning advances involve torture, destruction and death, and his over-stimulated reality is immortalized on film for good.
For high-profile celebrity cop Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), Slovak’s and Razgul’s bloody trail of ruin is another excuse for a People Magazine cover. Their initial double homicide includes a damaging fire, which spells a partnership for Flemming and arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns). The combination of media-hungry detective and introspective fireman is awkward and combustible. When righteous tabloid anchor Robert “If it Bleeds, it Leads” Hawkins gets wind of the case, and the incriminating footage, all hell breaks loose in a race with time, greed, and the provocative nature of truth-in-storytelling.
Is reality TV a public service? Does America really lust for violence and sex? Who controls our media integrity? Writer / director John Herzfeld has an opinion, not to mention a keen eye for violent crime. (Think his 1996 debut film “2 Days in the Valley”) But throw more money and bigger talent at a creative soul and it loses a little luster. The gaping holes in our collective value system are well-illustrated, as are the paranoia and delusion of a homicidal mind. Black comedy gets muddled with a large dose of camp, which results in a subtly less credible storyline.
De Niro is De Niro, always solid and perpetually there. Writer / producer / director / actor Burns (hubba hubba) is so charismatic onscreen that he deftly slips the film right out from under De Niro’s nose. Czech thespian Roden is a fiendish find, uncomfortably cold and calculating. A couple of surprise twists, and catchy POV video imagery, add to the uniquely unpredictable character of this explosive thriller.