The Day Willpower Beat Firepower.
It's been said many times, many ways: truth is often stranger than fiction. 44 Minutes, The North Hollywood Shoot-Out, clearly falls into that category. I can remember watching the news of this incident, and it feels like it only happened a year or so ago. It doesn't seem possible that such a vicious event took place seven years ago. I guess with all of the drama that Los Angeles creates—Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, earthquakes, fires—you sometimes lose track of time. Still, seeing two heavily armed men keeping dozens of policemen at bay is something you don't expect to happen in real life—that's the stuff movies are made of.
But, then again, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Facts of the Case
On February 28, 1997, two men were planning to rob an armored car that was about to make a morning delivery to a local Bank of America. For some reason, the vehicle was running late and the men were getting antsy. They had done this before, and they were itching for another payoff. Determined to not go home empty handed, the men burst into the bank instead.
This sounds like a normal bank robbery, but these men were unique in their abilities. They were packing a variety of extremely powerful weapons, including AK-47s, and were covered from neck to ankle in homemade body armor.
Unluckily for the two men, they were spotted just as they entered the bank. The robbers were not aware of this. As they exited the bank eight minutes later with the money, they were stunned to see dozens of police waiting for them. But they did not hesitate. Knowing how well armed and armored they were, they opened fire on the police.
The police were terribly outmatched.
The officers only had standard 9mm pistols, which were no match for the criminals' firepower. For the next 44 minutes, officers were held at bay by these madmen. It became a battle of willpower versus firepower to determine the outcome of this terrible day.
In the end, the two gunmen were unsuccessful and lost their lives in their attempt to rob the bank. Because no officer shied away from his or her duty, though many officers and civilians were shot, no one else died.
I was in the wrong place with the wrong weapon.
During the behind-the-scenes featurette that is included on this disc, someone makes the statement that they strove for complete authenticity during production of this made-for-TV movie. He said the crew did their best to ensure that every gun, every shot, every event was recreated as close as possible to the actual events of that fateful day. But, if you surf the web for just a few moments, you'll find (as you always will) numerous people claiming that the movie overlooked some important facts. I'll let you look for those yourself, if interested.
In either case, I found this movie gripping. As I could (for once) recall this actual event, I knew how the film would play out. However, I had never investigated the situation, so the film was fresh in presenting everything that led up to and through the last gunshot. It's a tight, well-paced, and compelling tale of heroism. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.
44 Minutes did confuse me at a couple of turns—not in the details of the story but in the details of the film itself. From the first moments I popped in this disc, I said that this film felt like a made-for-TV movie. But as the movie progressed and the violence erupted, my opinion changed because of the amount of violence and gore shown on screen. I began to believe that it was a theatrical release. That was bolstered by the R rating I found on the DVD packaging. Further, the acting—Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Species), Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers, Office Space), and Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City, Highlander 3)—the direction, and the overall production had a true movie feel to them. So, in my brief digging on the 'net, imagine my surprise when it turned out that 44 Minutes was indeed made for TV (for FX, if I'm not mistaken). Regardless of its roots, it's a very well-crafted TV movie.
And that carries over to the disc itself, which is agreeably fashioned for a mere movie-of-the-week. There's a very good anamorphic video transfer to feast your eyes upon: deep, bold, and accurate colors; rich blacks; crisp sharpness and details; and no transfer errors to be seen. Couple that with a lively and encompassing Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that properly utilizes every channel from clear dialogue to pounding bass to appropriate ambience, and 44 Minutes' transfers will put a big smile on your face. There are a few bonus features on the disc as well, but they are a bit odd. Actually, there's only one real extra, "Behind-the-Scenes of 44 Minutes" (21.5 minutes). This featurette lightly discusses many of the production aspects of putting the film together, with a special emphasis on the effects and weapons. It's not bad; it is a bit thin, but I presume there's only so much one could tell. The other "extras" are oddly named on the menu, and they really turn out only to be trailers for The French Connection, The Verdict, and The Shield. Other extras that should have been included are more actual footage of the event, a look at the weapons used, and perhaps a look at the boldest bank robberies ever.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's only one aspect to this film that I did not like: the utilization of the flashback to convey the story. It's not the flashback itself, but the one-on-one of the character talking directly to the camera. It's a cheesy technique that too often removed me from the film. At the very end, I believe you're supposed to get the impression that these scenes are interviews of the police officers for a news report in L.A. That's possible, but I still didn't like it.
Were you aware that in Los Angeles, at least in 1997, that there were 9,000 cops and only sixty of them were SWAT? I found that to be quite the amazing statistic. It helped me put this situation in perspective. As enjoyable as this movie is, I find myself not wanting to recommend it. It has many solid points behind it, but I get the feeling this isn't the kind of film that you'll have the urge to pull off your shelf for frequent viewing. As a rental, you'll do fine and find it enjoyable. But, if you do find yourself wanting to buy it, you won't be disappointed by the transfers, and there is at least an attempt at a bonus feature.
The court hereby finds 44 Minutes to be not guilty on all charges. Though the film may have exaggerated a few points, gotten a few details wrong, and embellished a character or two, 44 Minutes is an exciting film that captures the random surrealism of reality.
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Scales of Justice
• Behind-the-Scenes of 44 Minutes
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