Monday, November 02, 2009


12 сердитых людей

By Edward Copeland
I sure hope the estate of Reginald Rose or whomever owns the rights to 12 Angry Men got some sort of payment from the makers of the Russian film 12, because there is no question that the film is an unequivocal remake. Sure, there are some changes, but most of the story has merely been transplanted to Moscow, even the easy availability of supposedly unique knives. Director Nikita Mikhalkov's film does enough different to make the story seem fresh, but its length hampers the enjoyment.

Of course, 12, which was one of the Oscar nominees for foreign language film in 2007 though it didn't get a U.S. release until 2009, doesn't have the advantage that all the American incarnations of 12 Angry Men have in that most of the cast are made up of performers familiar to U.S. audiences, giving them a leg up to separating the characters. 12 can't quite differentiate as well. Even when you start to realize which one is the doctor, etc., part of it still plays in terms of Sidney Lumet's 1957 feature version, picking out the Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb stand-ins.

What really lengthens Mikhalkov's film and seems unnecessary are the flashback scenes fleshing out the story of the defendant. It really steps on the directorial flow of Mikhalkov, who also plays one of the jurors. Still, it's much better than the film Mikhalkov won the foreign language Oscar for, Burnt By the Sun. 12 wants to be story of a justice system struggling in post-Soviet Russia. There isn't a suitable jury room adjacent to the courthouse, so the jurors make their decision in a rundown school's gymnasium, complete with leaky pipes and asbestos falling from the ceiling.

Accused of murder is a young Chechen man who was adopted by a Russian soldier when his father was killed in Russian-Chechen combat. It does allow for a bit of the hatred between the Russians and Chechens to rear its head (along with some anti-Semitism between the jurors), but the scenes really do nothing to add to the deliberations, especially shots of the defendant spinning in dance in his jail cell as if he were Billy Elliott.

12 Angry Men is such a warhorse, that it almost always can work and this version, written by Mikhalkov, Aleksandr Novototsky-Vlasov and Vladimir Moiseyenko, does have a nice twist in the final stage of deliberations, focusing on what life will be like for the young man, that almost makes 12 reach a higher level of artistry. Unfortunately, it's such a long, predictable drive to get there.

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