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Movie Details

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Directed By
Nikita Mikhalkov

Written By:
Nikita Mikhalkov, Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky

Sergey Garmash, Nikita Mikhalkov, Aleksey Gorbunov, Sergei Makovetsky, Aleksei Petrenko, Yuriy Stoyanov, Sergei Gazarov, Mikhail Yefremov, Valentin Gaft, Sergei Artsybashev, Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Roman Madyanov, Aleksandr Adabashyan, Aleksey Gorbunov, Apti Magamaev

12 (2007)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
March 4th, 2009

'12' is basically a Russian remake of Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic 12 Angry Men; the premise is identical, a jury deliberates on the fate of a young man accused of murder, and each juror is convinced that the verdict will be reached quickly, that the case is open-and-shut, but there is a lone dissenter, someone who implants the seeds of doubt and gradually undermines the certitude of his colleagues. In the Lumet original, this was Henry Fonda; I do not know the name of the actor who plays that role here. That is one of the problems; I could not keep these characters straight. I was not even sure if they were seated in proper numeric order, or even assigned numbers to themselves. We never learn their names. The guy who initially votes not guilty is rather timid, speaks nervously, but the others are respectful of his opinion, and are willing to listen to what he has to say. He realizes that he has another human's life in his hands, and takes his duty as a juror seriously. He will not make a decision hastily, or arbitrarily; he wishes to re-examine the evidence, and see if the eyewitness testimony holds up to careful scrutiny. The jury has convened in a school gymnasium; so there is a lot of space, and the voices can echo as arguments ensue.

The film is structured around a discussion of issues relevant to modern Russian society; such as the legacies of Communism; some of the jurors display hostility for the old Communist order, especially its corruption and the low standard of living it produced, others seem to express a longing for it, and regret that the system has collapsed and forced Russia into a period of mandatory recovery, adjusting to capitalism and catching up to the rest of the West. One juror is motivated purely by racism; a native Muscovite unhappy with the recent influx of immigrants from the Caucasus and elsewhere, many of them Muslim. The defendant is a Chechen teenager; he allegedly killed his stepfather, a Russian military officer, and the fact that the victim was Russian, and the suspected perpetrator a non-Russian is enough to make a conviction, at least in the mind of this guy.

He calls the Chechen kid a "savage animal", a "beast", suggesting he has no morals, and that Chechens enjoy killing Russians. He even hurls some anti-Semitic comments at the elderly Jewish gentleman who happens to disagree with him, to become the second person to vote not guilty. This Jewish gentleman is a Holocaust survivor, and gives a well-thought out reason as to why he changed his mind. Reasonable doubt has surfaced. The movie is needlessly long-winded; each character, at some point, gives a speech, that reveals background information, about his family, career, personal experiences that may have led him to vote the way he did. Some of these monologues are interesting; others are not, and some stretch on for 8-10 minutes, wearing out their welcome and making the flick slightly boring.

The actors (many of whom are veterans of Russian cinema) and writers get a chance to shine, however, with anguished outbursts, plenty of comical anecdotes, and stirring debates; it is here that director Nikita Mikhalkov is going for scene-by-scene recreations of the Lumet original; the dispute over the uniqueness of the knife that served as the murder weapon, supposedly one-of-a-kind, but yet easily obtainable at a local store, punching holes in the testimonies of the two eyewitnesses, and finding explanations for why these people may have committed perjury, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Mikhalkov goes the extra mile, though; he actually reveals who the real culprits were, and they are tied to a scheme involving a multi-million dollar building project. I am not sure that this makes a lot of sense, and it is sprung on the audience suddenly, and everyone just sort of accepts it, without sufficient evidence, but at least it exonerates the boy. Then, there is the idea that, even if he may be innocent, since he has nowhere to go, it might be better to send him to jail, rather than let him live on the streets, unless other arrangements are made.

There are also flashback sequences, presumably of the boy's early life, with his strict father, and the kindly officer who adopted him after marrying his mother. And sequences that illustrate the intense conflict between the Russians and the Chechens; the Chechens dismissed as terrorists, though the Russians have illegally occupied Chechen territory for several decades, really ever since Stalin deported the Chechens to Siberian camps (as a security risk, a nationality that could not be effectively controlled), and resettled Russians in their small country. These battle and flashback sequences upset the pace of the picture, and are jammed into the plot without much regard for coherence; I think they could have been left out entirely.

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