Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Michael Madsen, Ron Livingston, Mario Van Peebles
Director: Yves Simoneau
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 85 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2003

“On that day, in 44 minutes of sheer terror, not a single officer ran away. Everybody did their job, and I think that means something.”

Film ***

It's funny to think that a movie made for television can surpass the overall quality of one made for the big screen. 44 Minutes, an account of one of the longest gun battles in urban warfare history, is a pure example of such a case. I recently reviewed the theatrical hit S.W.A.T., which despite some engaging moments didn't succeed for me altogether. In addition, it felt a little too conventional and clichéd even for my taste. While that movie was a big hit in its theatrical run, 44 Minutes made its debut on the FX Network, and while I have no knowledge of how many people got a chance to see it, I think it's clearly the bolder film of the two. Being based on an actual shootout, it's pretty much a given that it would be.

As it turns out, the opening shootout scene in S.W.A.T., where a SWAT team battles two masked gunmen inside a bank near Hollywood, is actually loosely based on the incident depicted in 44 Minutes, which is known as the North Hollywood shootout. The movie chronicles the horrifying events that went down in North Hollywood on Friday, February 28, 1997, a day that would put the LAPD to the ultimate test.

Since the film runs at a brisk pace of 85 minutes, the movie wastes no time in setting up the events leading up to the shootout. At the center of the story is Detective Frank McGregor (Michael Madsen), a veteran of the LAPD who's considering turning in his badge and quitting the force due to the bad rep the department has been given by the media, a circus he doesn't want to be apart of. That is, of course, until he gets a call about a robbery that has just gone down in North Hollywood.

Other key characters in the movie include SWAT team member Donnie Anderson (Ron Livingston), a relatively new member to the team who's asked to take some time off just moments before the holdup occurs, for which he is then needed for assistance. Also in the middle of gun battle is Henry (Mario Van Peebles), a uniform officer who will end up making the boldest move of any cop on the scene during the shootout. The two gunmen, played by Oleg Taktarov and Andrew Bryniarski, are known as the "High Incidence Bandits, and happen to be armed with endless rounds of illegal ammunition. In addition, they are armed with bullet proof vests, making them a bit indestructible.

Although it doesn't provide much character development, for which it makes up for with documentary like moments featuring the key actors reflecting on the day, 44 Minutes manages to maintain a superb amount of tension throughout the movie. All that is crucial to this story is the shootout between the gunmen and the cops, because it's astonishing to think that a gun battle even took place no less than seven years ago. It may seem like it flies by you when you're watching it reenacted, but in reality, a gun battle that lasted 44 minutes may as well seem like an eternity.

Video ***1/2

Fox proves that even something made for TV can look just as good on DVD as a major film release. The anamorphic transfer is for the most part superb and filled to the brim with tremendous image detail. During the numerous pseudo interviews, there is clearly some intentional grain used to enhance the effect, so don't let that throw you off. Colors are absorbingly natural, and image clarity is for the most part of top level quality.

Audio ****

To be honest, I wasn't prepared for just how much sound power I was going to get from this presentation, even in 5.1 form. Fox's sound job on this disc is of their usual best. For a good portion of the entire presentation, gunfire, shattered glass, a few explosions, and a boatload of other loud sounding effects take center stage as part of recreating this real life duel between good and evil, and the sound quality comes into terrific use in enhancing the effect.

Features **

The primary feature is a near half hour documentary on the making of the movie, which is actually quite informative as it covers everything from the actors to the filmmaking crew to the technical advisors, who in this case are the most important players in the production.

Also included is a brief featurette for the hit TV series The Shield, as well as trailers for The French Connection and The Verdict.


I haven't seen many TV movies lately, and at the same time I haven't seen a TV movie with as much power and effect as 44 Minutes, which convincingly recreates a horrifying day for the LAPD, as well as the rest of the country.