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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
The character played by 'Yuri Stoyanov' (childish TV-producer, owner of a private TV chain in consort with his mother) is a caricature of 'Dmitri Lesnevski', ex-owner of the independent chain Ren-TV and producer of acclaimed Russian movies The Return (2003) (The Return, 2003) and The Banishment (2007). In 2003 "Vozvrashchenie" was awarded with the Golden Lion of the Venice Film Festival and nominated for Academy Award, therefore becoming the greatest international breakthrough of the Russian cinema since "Burnt by the Sun" by Mikhalkov. See more »
"Ernest Emerson" is a manufacturer of knives from the USA. However their model, CQC7, is not like the knife on the film. Emerson knives are folding knives. See more »
Superb Performances (but some audio problems for me.)
I found this movie to be a theatrical feast, but with a couple of nagging annoyances.
I want to get the annoying parts off my chest first, because chronologically that's how I encountered the movie. It seems to me that Russians have never mastered the art of sound mixing. Whether in old Soviet films or in this modern Russian one, there is always something not quite right with the sound.
As the film began I found that the background noises were much louder than the speech of the actors. The sounds of doors slamming, children yelling, workers working, and so on were loud and clear, but the actors' voices were practically whispers in that maelstrom. I don't know why that is. Could it be only in the foreign, sub-titled version of the film? I don't see complaints about the sound levels from anyone else, but I'm pretty sure it's not just me. I desperately wanted to listen to the Russian dialog, but the low audio level of the voices forced me to read the sub-titles throughout most of the film. It was a bit like walking with a small stone in my shoe.
Not having seen the "12 Angry Men" movie on which this current film was based, I was forced to accept "12" on its own merits. Thus, I experienced this film not as a remake of a previous movie, but as a filmed a stage play with phenomenal actors. Perhaps as a result, I unequivocally enjoyed this acting extravaganza. There may have been some occasional carpet chewing, but overall the performances were astounding. I certainly wish the IMDb list of players had more information about who played which role and had more biographical information about the individual actors. Perhaps someone familiar with Russian films and actors could throw more light on the matter. Much the same criticism, of course, could apply to IMDb's level of information on foreign films in general.
Frankly, I didn't take the matter of the guilt or innocence of the "accused" very seriously. With all the theorizing the jurors were doing, and with the serious lack of real information for us in the audience, there was absolutely no way to determine real guilt or innocence. If anything, the flashback scenes were more confusing than enlightening. So, as far as I was concerned, it was the jurors, particularly the "Great Russians" among them - who were at the center of the film. Watching their "paralysis by analysis" was the real treat, irrespective of whether they reached the right conclusion in the end. As far as that conclusion is concerned, I have no idea what Mikhalkov means by it. His own screen character was obviously implying that he has a unique insight into things, intimating that perhaps he had been at one time in the KGB, GRU, or had been a member of some other allegedly all-knowing organization? Frankly, this was a bit off-putting and seemed to imply that the State and its workers knew things that the average citizen just hadn't a need to know. In any event, despite having a relatively modest role for most of the film, at the end Mikhalkov came a little too much to the fore for my taste. I'd be very happy to read a Russian reviewer's explanation of Mikhalkov's character.
A word or two about the depiction of Chechens. The music, dancing, and overwhelming maleness of Chechen culture were solidly, if briefly, presented. One certainly cannot stereotype all Chechen men as being similar to the Chechen fighters depicted in this film, but the characterization of those fighters was phenomenal. In this film the Chechens fighters' raw power to intimidate, threaten, and attack their enemies those was palpable. I'm aware that even Alexander Solzhenitsyn praised the indomitable culture of Chechens in the Gulag. They just never, ever, yielded to the Soviets.
So, I rate this film very highly. Perhaps I'm missing the film's more subtle propaganda that some here have mentioned, but that's something I can continue to think more about. I highly recommend "12."
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