Sunday, July 19, 2009

12: Grade B

12 (2007)
Numerous Russian actors unknown in the west; Co-writer and director Nikita Mikhalkov. (Russian, subtitled).

This is a remake of the 1957 classic American courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men, done in a peculiarly Russian way. The broad outlines of the original story are kept, but instead of the American version’s didactic exercise in critical thinking, the Russian characters make their points and persuade each other with rambling, often poignant, personal stories, characteristic of traditional Russian culture. The accused is a young Chechen, reviled and presumed guilty of killing a Russian military officer, but the stories gradually introduce a sliver of compassion, shreds of doubt, and eventually a re-thinking that overturns the initial consensus. It didn’t seem as dramatic a conversion as in the American tale, but that is probably because I am American, not Russian. I got the sense from the stories told that the drama would have been quite intense for a Russian audience. Acting is uniformly good, pacing is good, and it is enjoyable to get glimpses into the values and thinking of ordinary Russians. It would have been a better movie if it had been an original Russian story “based on” a similar situation and had not used clunky adherence to original plot points. But maybe the larger message was that educated Russian society is now thinking about democracy and justice along American lines.

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