Starring Nikita Mikhalkov. In Russian and Chechen with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, March 20, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
12 is credited as being based upon 12 Angry Men, a 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose and also the better-remembered movie, directed by Sidney Lumet three years later, after the height of the Red scare.
Watch the trailer for 12.
Those origins constitute one possible reason the new movie sticks to a dramatic face-off between a dozen male jurors deciding the fate of a young man accused of murder—in this case a Chechen (Apti Magamaev) on trial for knifing his adoptive Russian father. More probably the film’s director, Nikita Mikhalkov—who wrote the script with two others and plays the wise jury foreman—wanted to examine masculine archetypes in modern Russia.
Beleaguered ideals regarding compassion and freedom from prejudice were the subjects of the Americanski version, which had several other homegrown revivals in the past 12 angry years. Mikhalkov, best known for his 1994 Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun, is more interested in the philosophical and political elements, and he exercises these by allowing each of the dozen players bits of elaborate business to reveal character and context. The one post-trial holdout against assumed guilt is a former drunk (Sergei Makovetsky, in the Henry Fonda role) initially pitted against a virulent racist, played by excellent Sergey Garmash, who echoes both Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley in the original film.
The well-paced action (important at 159 minutes) has cleverly been shifted from a cloistered jury room to a crumbling school gymnasium, where lights flicker and a piano is just reachable beyond iron bars. “It’s only temporary,” explains a bailiff, speaking for Mother Russia in general.
I could have lived without some digressions into the Chechen’s harrowing past and uncertain future. The point of the tale, as always, is that nothing seems simple if you take the time and trouble to examine it closely.