The premise of 12 Angry Men is brilliantly simple. During a murder trial, a jury must reach a unanimous verdict over whether or not the defendant is guilty, but one of them is convinced of the supposed killer's innocence. 12 is a Russian-language remake of 12 Angry Men that lightly twists Reginald Rose's original story in interesting ways without diminishing the power of the premise. Once again, 12 men sit on a jury during a murder trial, and once again, one man (Sergey Makovetsky) speaks up. However, the juror, Juror 1, isn't necessarily convinced of the boy's innocence, only that they shouldn't ignore their roles as jurors and make a hasty decision just because they all have other things they'd rather be doing.
The Lumet/Fonda version took place in a jury room inside the courthouse, but director Nikita Mikhalkov and co-screenwriters Alexander Novototsky-Vlasov and Vladimir Moiseenko devise a device where the jury room is under construction, and the jurors are led into the gym at the adjacent school. There, the characters have plenty of space to move around in and things to interact with, including wheelchairs, medicine balls, restrooms, trophies, stopwatches and a terrible makeshift heating pipe hanging from the ceiling, through which a bird flies into the room. Mikhalkov uses the space to his advantage, as the jurors try to recreate the apartment in which the murder took place and use props to envision a fictional upscale condo.
Any version of 12 Angry Men is first and foremost a performance piece, and 12 contains several knockout turns. The scene with the imaginary condo is one of the film's most gripping examples. Juror 3 (Sergey Garmash), an angry, racist cab driver, wheels Juror 6 (Yuriy Stoyanov), a wimpy TV producer, around the room in a wheelchair, trying to get him to envision a terrible crime happening to his own family, painting a picture of a posh lifestyle gone wrong with increasingly alarming descriptions, ending with the thud of the medicine ball on the floor. In fact, Garmash, playing the group's most stubborn skeptic, commands the most scenes, concluding with a lengthy story about the way he once treated his young son. Other gripping moments include Juror 8 (Mikhail Efremov) angrily wondering why the world seems to be unable or afraid to deal with true seriousness, Juror 7 (Sergei Gazarov) performing an elaborate knife dance, and even director Mikhalkov himself, playing Juror 2, is magnetic as one of the group's only quiet, purely logical members in one of the film's last scenes.
12 runs 160 minutes, and the lengthy debates with the jurors are intercut with the story of the accused boy (Apti Magamaev). His life is surrounded by military violence, told in flashbacks filled with gunfire and bombed-out buildings. I'm no encyclopedia of foreign affairs, but the influence of the culture in which the film was made is striking, especially since 12 Angry Men seems like an American story (indeed, none of the jurors in 12 are trying to get to a baseball game). This is also illustrated by Juror 3's aforementioned racism; Garmash's cab driver gets worked up describing how he feels like a stranger in his own home town, surrounded by people he thinks are barbaric. There is another 12 on IMDb with a 2009 date. It's easy to watch the movie and imagine an American remake (with Ron Perlman in the Garmash role), but to take out the Russian influence of the movie would sap the movie of most of its material. All of the war footage is presented in somewhat graphic detail, but the delicate way Mikhalkov focuses on it being overwhelming and tragic rather than the violence of it all was enough to convince the MPAA to grant the film a PG-13 rating. I think it's the right call, although one should know that the movie has a truly gruesome image or two.
The film isn't perfect; almost everyone gets a chance to take the spotlight in a manner that feels mechanical or pre-planned, and the film seems a little misogynist (like the original, there are no female jurors -- in fact, there are probably less than ten speaking lines from women in the entire movie -- and a type of jealousy is referred to as being "female jealousy). Watching the movie, though, is hypnotic, as each of these talented performers step forth and do their own thing. The film could have felt like a stage play, but it's very cinematic, and the near three-hour runtime breezes by in a flash. Fans of 12 Angry Men and those who take special pleasure in watching actors perform should check out this powerful, tour-de-force remake.
The striking original poster art adorns the front cover of this DVD, which is packed into an Eco-Box with no insert. The back cover is disappointing. Instead of highlighting some of the film's excellent cinematography, it uses the same picture of the jury from the front cover and a photograph of Abdi Magamev, who plays a younger version of the defendant in the flashbacks, covering both in a sepia tone that makes the movie look like it's a black-and-white picture from the 1940s. The disc has no image on it at all, just black finish for the title and logos on top of the silver disc surface.
12 gets a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation courtesy of Sony, and it's excellent. The film takes place in various types of indoor and outdoor lighting, all of which are rendered well, without any visible edge enhancement or blow-out, and lots of fine detail is visible, including the textured faces of the 12 jury members. There's a little of the Sony sheen of darkness on the film (an effect I've noticed on lots of their newer titles where it looks like a sheen of gray has been placed over the whole movie), but this is generally a great-looking presentation.
The majority of the Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 track included is devoted to realism rather than surround, recreating the echo of a school gym. Occasionally, however, bullets fly and buildings are rocked with explosions, which really brings the track to life. There's also the occasional music cue that works in the surrounds pretty well. It's slightly less impressive than the video, because this is a dialogue-based film, but it's still a rock-solid track. English and French subtitles are provided.
Sadly, there are no extras, other than the film's original theatrical trailer. Automatic ads for TobaccoFreeCA.com, Blu-Ray is High Definition!, O'Horten, Easy Virtue, Soul Power and Whatever Works play when you put in the disc, and additional trailers for Paris 36, The Class, Every Little Step, Sugar, I've Loved You So Long, Brick Lane, When Did You Last See Your Father? and Married Life are accessible from the menu. Just like Fragments, for some reason, one trailer, in this case Whatever Works, is not on the trailers menu.
12 is packed with powerful performances, and I was transfixed and engaged throughout the movie's entire 160 minutes. Sadly, there are no bonus features on the DVD, but the A/V specs are solid. Highly recommended.
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