12

"OK"

12 Review


A peculiar, slathering beast comes lumbering out of writer Reginald Rose's slow-burning 12 Angry Men in Nikita Mikhalkov's epic 12, an inverted and wildly uneven Russian production that recasts the famous, tight legal drama as a litmus test of the cultural mindsets currently at play in Mother Russia. Fitted with a flared lighting scheme that wouldn't be out of place in the latest Saw installment, this intriguing, prolonged version of Sidney Lumet's debut film is nothing if not deeply Russian.

Perhaps the one thing that most separates Mikhalkov's film from its American counterparts is a difference in law rather than dramatic choice. As a young Chechen man (Apti Magamayev) paces in his cell, 12 men sit around a long table in a high school gymnasium deciding whether or not the youth will spend the rest of his natural life in prison. Accused of murdering his stepfather, the young man would face a far more fatalistic sentence if he were to be tried stateside. As in Rose's original, the group is slowly picked apart by a singular vote of not guilty. But where the original was wound tightly around the fate of the accused, Mikhalkov's concept nearly disregards the young man in question and accentuates instead the empty space of the large gymnasium.

This isn't to say that Mikhalkov's version goes completely off the reservation. The cantankerous, flagrantly nationalist juror (a fiery Sergey Garmash, in for Lee J. Cobb) still nips at everyone's necks as he goes round-for-round with the soft-spoken dissenter (the excellent Sergey Makovetsky, in for Henry Fonda). The skeletal structure of the film also remains intact, allowing each juror to deliver a rambling diatribe about how they came to be the person now in charge of someone's life.

What has dramatically changed is the pitch and tone of the film, as well as the degree of the social landscape's role for both in the characters and in the case. Both Lumet's version and William Friedkin's passable 1997 television production relied heavily on the look and the feel of the deliberation room. Lumet, who was aided immeasurably by the late cinematographer Boris Kaufman, kept the focus completely on the small, plain room and created an air of claustrophobia that made the heated deliberations even more urgent. Mikhalkov indulges in several flights into the past of the accused, recounting the Chechen conflicts that left the young man with no family but the Russian soldier who adopted him. Whereas race factored heavily into the American productions, Mikhalkov's eye has turned to the rich, post-Soviet tapestry that makes up his homeland.

Though never boring, 12 is both horrendously unfocused and strangely impersonal. Best known for his 1995 Academy Award-winning post-Stalin drama Burnt by the Sun, the Muscovite filmmaker goes as far as to conjure up blowhard conspiracies, both romantic and corporate, before the film's lengthy 150-minute runtime expires. The kitchen-sink attitude towards narrative comes as a surprise considering the script was co-written by Vladimir Moiseyenko and Aleksandr Novototsky, the scribes behind Andrei Zvyagintsev's brilliantly minimalist The Return.

Nevertheless, it is the actors' unflinching dedication to the material that holds the film's kinetic rhythm. Besides the chief combatants, there's a great, horrific supposition played out with a mama's boy TV exec (Yuri Stoyanov) and a marvelous turn-the-tables tirade delivered by a Chechen surgeon (Sergei Gazarov) while practicing his knife-play. The most preposterous recital is reserved for Mikhalkov himself, however, who plays the quiet-yet-omnipresent last juror to plead the case for guilt. Spiraling into a delirious "what if" scenario involving greedy business jackals and innocence endangered, the film ends as if it were just gearing up, preparing for a gunfight that we will never witness. Like much of the film, it feels more like a revving of the engine than a shift into gear.

Invisible dancing!



12

Facts and Figures

Run time: 159 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 20th September 2007

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 14

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Nikita Mikhalkov

Producer: Nikita Mikhalkov, Leonid Vereschagin

Starring: Willy Adler as Nicky, Sascha Atzenbeck as Paul, Ulrich Beiger as Ottokar Kuppler, Eva Berthold as Frau Kuppler, Marianne Dupont as Schülerin, Johanna Ebertseder as Gabi, Sylvia Engelmann as Ina Kuppler, Gudrun Grau as Barbara, Wolf Harnisch as Dr. Meisentopf, Margitta Hofer as Betty, Michel Jacot as Herbert Ballermann, Kolfgang Jung as Captain Stelling, Karin Kernke as Karin's Lehrerin, Ginny Noack as Edda, Helena Rosenkranz as Gabis Mutter, Claus Tinney as Helmut Wolters, Elisabeth Welz as Lehrerin auf Schulausflug, Stefan Wiesehöfer as Heiner

Also starring:

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