Reviewed in December 2009 / Click Here to Comment
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov. Cast: Nikita Mikhalkov, Sergey Makovetsky, Sergey Garmash, Valentin Gaft, Sergei Artsybashev, Yuriy Stoyanov, Sergey Gazarov, Mikhail Efremov, Aleksei Petrenko, Roman Madyanov, Aleksey Gorbunov, Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Apti Magamaev, Natalya Surkova, Aleksandr Adabashyan, Vladimir Komarov, Mikael Bazorkin, Mesedo Salimova, Olga Khokhlova. Screenplay: Nikita Mikhalkov, Aleksandr Novototsky-Vlasov, and Vladimir Moiseyenko (based on the screenplay and teleplay 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose).

Photo © 2007 Studio Trite, © 2009 Sony Pictures Classics
Unlike the original 12 Angry Men, Nikita Mikhalkov's 12 doesn't pretend a whole lot of suspense about the overall drift of the dramatic deliberations, and it's much less obnoxious about hustling its viewers into an aggressive reading of the evidence that pretends to be benign and ecumenical. If anything, Mikhalkov has used this story as a framework on which to mount—sometimes critically, sometimes indulgently—a series of grand arias of flamboyantly Russian storytelling. Juror after juror gets a huge, beefy monologue of varying pertinence to the case at hand. As such, 12 sometimes signals that, along with decaying infrastructure and racist, regionalist, and anti-Semitic prejudice, the bravado and sheer, garrulous momentum of a Russian man of a certain age who has opted to regale you with some facet of his own experience is a sort of cultural impediment to efficient or even ultimate justice. At other times, especially when the grandiloquence of these scenes resonates with other ways in which Mikhalkov risks stylistic heaviness or self-indulgence (the frenzied editing around a lost key, the dogged attention to rather juvenile symbols), 12 seems just as hobbled by its big, baggy dramaturgy as 12 Angry Men is by its pretense at lean, limber, dispassionate observation. Nonetheless, both movies pack a reliable punch, with earnestly wrought speeches and debates around enduringly sensitive topics, and a nimble way of playing the vicissitudes of one particular trial against the structural inclemencies to the larger judicial system, either in Eisenhower's (or McCarthy's) U.S.A. or Putin's Russia, i.e., either in a longstanding democracy or a more nascent one. They both make room for some impressive performances, too. Sergey Makovetsky, in this movie's version of the Henry Fonda role, not only has a credible but understated ardor for his position but does the best job in the cast of plausibly listening to the other points of view. Sergey Garmash, in the Lee J. Cobb part, has an impressive set of bullying hackles. Still, despite 12's vehement insistence on being more than a "remake" of the Lumet classic, there are long scenes like that of recreating a key witness's apartment that never worked all that well in the original teleplay and stick out uncomfortably in the revised script as compulsory nods to the template, not as essential ingredients of the new construction. A final rhetorical parlay by the final holdout on the jury bespeaks a force of legitimate dramatic surprise that 12 Angry Men totally lacks, and it activates a new set of fascinating questions about a jurist's responsibility, well past the point where you think 12 has laid all its cards on the table. Then again, the self-conscious showmanship of this final narrative parlay exceeds in many ways its dramatic coherence, and it whisks us back to the earlier film's problem of laying it on a bit thick about what "we," the jurors as well as the anticipated audience, know about "them," the defendants and the socio-culturally disadvantaged in our midst. Nor does Mikhalkov ever quite settle on what he's doing with all the scattershot flashbacks to the scene of the actual crime, and to its own contextualizing backstory in the Chechnyan conflict, though some of these visual tableaus, repetitive edits, and ballistic sound-effects make an estimable impression on their own technical terms. In other words, I've sampled this core material twice now, and even left to my own devices, I'm still a hung jury. B–

Academy Award Nominations (2007):
Best Foreign Language Film

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