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.