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Francis Ford Coppola,
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A loose remake of 12 Angry Men (1957), set in a Russian school. 12 jurors are struggling to decide the fate of a Chechen teenager who allegedly killed his Russian stepfather who took the teenager to live with him in Moscow during the Chechen War in which teenager lost his parents. The jurors: a racist taxi-driver, a suspicious doctor, a vacillating TV producer, a Holocaust survivor, a flamboyant musician, a cemetery manager, and others represent the fragmented society of modern day Russia. A stray bird (a touch of New Age cinema) is flying above the jurors' heads, alluding to tolerance.Written by
This is a masterpiece. The beauty of the film is in its simplicity. Almost the whole thing takes place in a high school gymnasium, around a long table around which the twelve jurors sit. Every performance is superb, including that of the director, who plays the foreman, and Sergei Garmash as the cab driver juror. The screenplay follows the tortuous deliberations, in which every juror has at least one soliloquy. Excellent camera-work and lighting augment the heavy drama.
It is more likely in Russia today that twelve whites would end up forming a jury, although less so that no women would be serving. Director Nikita Mikhalkov evidently chose to remain faithful that much to the American movie on which his is based, Twelve Angry Men. One wonders whether it might have been more interesting with women jurors contributing their anguish to the picture, and since this version is simply titled 12, the possibility of including a woman or two (as would be realistic in this day and age) was presumably open. Also, the film is not realistic in the sense that Russia does not have a jury system, therefore this situation would not arise in real life. What Mikhalkov was probably trying to do was to create a morality play, and this he does magnificently. These criticisms are therefore minor. This is a wonderful piece of work.
As the film is starting, for those who know Russian, one sees the logo of "Patriotic Films." This may cause groans among those who know more about Russia. Patriotic Russians today seem reactionary and defensive to many Westerners. But Mikhalkov does not dance around the sensitive race issue at the core of the plot, a Chechen boy accused of murdering his stepfather, a Russian military officer, and facing life in prison. Mikhalkov's main interest really is in truth, justice and honesty. The idea of these qualities as components of "patriotism" actually lies at the core of this story, and it is brilliantly executed. By the end, if you can suppress cynicism and believe that this many men of conscience could assemble in one place in Russia today, you will be moved to tears. This is a major achievement.
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