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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Nikita Mikhalkov
Sony Pictures 03/09 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG-13 - violent images, disturbing content, thematic material, brief sexual and
Russian director Nikita Makhalkov has created a riveting adaptation of 12 Angry Men, the 1957 American film directed by Sidney Lumet with a screenplay by Reginald Rose. Although there are certain similarities, this telling of the tale has specific changes that relate to the Moscow setting.
A young Chechen man (Apti Magamaev) has been accused of stabbing to death his adoptive father, a Russian military officer. A jury of twelve men retire to a gymnasium in a run-down high school that contains a long table, a piano, basketball hoops, and exercise mats. They have been told that "the decision must be unanimous." The bailiff takes away their cell phones and says to them, "You'll be done in twenty minutes." The group selects a foreman (Nikita Mikhalkov) and the busy men around the table are all convinced that their proceedings together will not take very long. A vote is taken to see whether or not they will send the defendant to prison for the rest of his life. Eleven choose to convict and one votes to acquit. An engineer (Sergey Makovetsky) is convinced that they have acted too fast given that the Chechen youth's entire life is in their hands.
An angry cabbie (Sergey Garmash) wants to know why mercy should be shown the "stinking Chechen dog." When a pensive Jewish man (Valentin Gaft) decides to go along with the engineer, he notes that the defendant's lawyer did a poor job. The group is mesmerized by the engineer's account of his alcoholism and personal transformation. But the poison of prejudice raises its ugly head again when a disgruntled transit worker (Alexey Petrenko) spews his distrust of non-Russians and the cabbie laments that he feels "like an alien in my own city."
The Jewish man shares a story that shows that anything is possible: it revolves around his father's love for a Nazi SS officer's wife and then the transit worker tells a bizarre tale of his uncle and a hostage crisis. A surgeon (Sergey Gazarov) clashes with the cabbie and an actor decides to vote to acquit. Now there are seven still upholding a guilty verdict. A TV producer (Yuri Stoyanov) is scared out of his wits by a dramatic vignette delivered by the cabbie, and a traveling actor (Mikhail Efremov) adds his own little contribution to the ongoing dialogue about the case.
Director Mikhalkov (Burnt by the Sun) has created a multidimensional and very theatrical film about the poignancies and flaws in human nature when it comes to judging others, especially those who are viewed as strangers or outsiders. The flashbacks in the drama depict the battles between the Russians and the Chechens as a source of mutual hatred.
The engineer, as an individual who has experienced a second chance, is a heroic figure of empathy and insight. Although even he falters in the surprising finale when a new standard of caring and compassion is introduced from an unlikely character in the story. A final treat is that some of the speeches of the jurors convey the prejudices, incivilities, professional ineptitude and corruption afoot in Moscow at the time of the trial. 12 was a 2008 Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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