Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is considered a classic of American cinema and a film that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never seen. It’s the story of 12 jurors deciding a man’s fate as played out basically in real time through their post trial deliberations. My latest review 2007’s 12 is a Russian language remake of this classic film and is a film that simply blew away all of my expectations for quality and entertainment value. If you have any interest in foreign cinema, you can stop reading this right now and go rent this movie.
12 follows the story of the group of 12 men who are the jury deciding the fate of a young Chechen boy who is accused of murdering his adopted father, a retired member of the Russian military. The jury is composed of a fairly diverse group of individuals, including a holocaust survivor, a retired KGB officer, a virulently bigoted man (particularly against Chechens and Jews), a Chechen surgeon, and others representative of modern Russian society. The film plays out mostly in real time (except for when time needs to pass, a flashback is used to fill up the time). At the beginning of the film, all but one juror is convinced of the boys guilt, and the rest of the film slowly plays out his attempts to convince the others of the boys innocence. I don’t want to ruin anything else about the plot because it manages to tread some really interesting and unexpected paths later in the film.
The acting and storytelling in the film is quite fantastic. If you’re going to have a movie that takes place mostly in one room and involves little more than 12 men talking the whole film, you’d better give those men something to say and have those men be able to deliver their lines, and with only one or two exceptions, all of the jurors perform exceptionally. Each one is given at least one important monologue which helps to flesh out their character and back story. Even the juror that you hate the most is made to seem more sympathetic by film’s end. The only thing that kept me from fully grasping the film was that I lacked a complete understanding of the relationship between Russia and Chechnya which is really a key aspect of the political message of the film.
The only reason this movie isn’t going to get a perfect score is that there were some very strange leaps in legal logic that some of the jurors used when they were deciding how they wanted to vote that as someone who wanted to go to law school for a while, I found to be quite strange. Also, the last two scenes, especially the penultimate one, were a tad bit on the confusing side and it seemed the director was trying too hard to jam some extra symbolism into the film. Really though, this movie was fantastic. For as long as it was, I managed to stay riveted the entire time, and the movie just kept getting better and better as it progressed. If you like foreign films or crime/legal dramas, this is simply a must see. Honestly, the only people that I wouldn’t recommend this to are the people that can’t watch a movie that is nothing more than people talking for two and a half hours.
Final Score: A