A brilliant variation on a theme. Inspired by Sydney Lumet’s 1957 classic 12 Angry Men, Nikita Mikhalkov’s modern-day “remake” is actually far from being a mimesis of the original. Once again we are presented with 12 male jurors who have to return a unanimous verdict on a murder trial; a verdict which means the difference between life imprisonment and freedom for the young boy accused.
Although the “original” is full of social commentary, especially regarding racial prejudice, the main crux of the story is related to the notion of “reasonable doubt”. 12 differs dramatically from this as the situation pivots on the political context, and implications, of the discussion which is taking place.
Mikhalkov’s film is seeped in the bloody history between Russians and Chechens, as well as being a character study of the twelve jurors. Various characters, professions and socio-political opinions collide and, as the men discuss the case, they begin to expose themselves to one another by drawing from their personal experiences.
The whole body of the film opens itself to even closer analysis thanks to an intelligent and thought provoking twist near the end, cleverly shedding a critical and cynical light over the whole debate witnessed.
The direction is wonderful and bounces between static shots following the dialogue and wonderfully lyrical images. The acting is strong throughout. The main criticism which can be made against the film is an occasionally over-contrived narrative which makes some characters and situations difficult to believe. But then I have never had a problem with artistic license in cinema.
Nikita Mokhalkov, in addition to being one of Russia’s most recognised filmmakers, is also a successful actor, and in 12 plays one of the jurors.