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WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Set in contemporary Moscow, 12 is the story of 12 Russian jurors locked in a school gymnasium to deliberate the verdict on a Chechnyan boy, accused of killing his adopted father, a Russian army officer.

The jurors, who’ve spent the past three days in the courtroom, are eager to give a guilty verdict and go back to their lives. They all vote “guilty”, except one, an engineer (Makovetsky), who refuses to take moral responsibility for making a hasty decision on the boy’s fate.

The engineer makes a persuasive argument that brings the others round to his view. One by one, each man takes centre stage to confront, connect, and confess while the accused awaits the verdict and revisits his heartbreaking journey through war in flashbacks.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

“12” is based on Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men”, but is not a total remake of it. Mikhalkov’s script is distinctively Russian, underpinned by stories from contemporary Russia. It touches on the role of citizenship, law in the post-communist era, globalisation and western influence, media saturation, military expansion, social and political corruption, and the war in Chechnya, as well as race and anti-Semitism.

In this film, the Russian society, with its conflicts and intricacies, is personified by the different backgrounds, vocations and ethnicities of the Jurors: the xenophobic taxi driver, the moralist engineer, the Caucasian surgeon, the neurotic Harvard-educated TV producer, the former officer, the intellectual Jew, the cemetery manager…etc.

Unlike the claustrophobic setting in “12 Angry Men”, this film is set in a large school gymnasium, perhaps as a metaphor for the expansive size of Russia, where the characters are able to recreate the murder scene, move around freely and interact with each other, enhancing the dramatic conflicts in the group. Mikhalkov masterly keeps his characters moving and injects a lot of suspense as he takes each one of them on rollercoaster of an emotional journey. Each invokes their own pathos and learns from the others. And as you watch the movie, you feel as if you’re actually watching 12 movies about 12 fascinating characters.

The Jurors’ deliberation is also interspersed with flashbacks of the life of the accused boy, where we see him living through the hell of the Chechnyan war, and his life being saved by his adopted father. Mikhalkov also dwells on the little things that plague Russia: the drug syringe found in the school’s locker, the broken heating pipes that were built 40 years ago and still waiting for replacement, the intermittent power cuts…etc. This film is as much as about Russia as it is about a criminal court case.

In spite of its 150 minutes length, the film is thoroughly entertaining, thanks to a solid script, powerful performances, captivating visuals and masterful directing. The only caveat is the difficulty of reading the subtitles, for it’s presented in white and superimposed mostly on the characters’ white shirts; yellow would’ve done a better job.

DVD release on 14 July 2009

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