"12 Angry Men" is an American cinematic classic.
My fondness for "12 Angry Men" is widely known, and the film rests comfortably in my Top 5 films of all-time.
I approached "12," a Russian re-imagining of "12 Angry Men," with caution.
The worry was for naught. While "12" isn't likely to be considered quite the cinematic classic as the 1957 version, it is a well-timed, insightful, dramatic and involving re-imagining in which co-writer, director and co-star Nikita Mikhalkov has placed the film into a contemporary Russian society. In "12," twelve jurors are sequestered to determine the fate of a Chechen youth accused of the murder of his step-father.
You know the story.
There are 12 jurors, each coming to this life experience with their own biases, baggage, unresolved issues and underlying stories. In the initial vote, eleven jurors vote for conviction and a lone juror questions the young man's guilt.
Any true fan of American cinema knows this story and how it will end. Yet, "12 Angry Men" remains vibrant and electrifying more than 50 years after its creation. Much like "12 Angry Men," Mikhalkov's "12" isn't so much about the final verdict as it is the stories of these 12 men and how their stories unfold into their present day circumstances.
Wisely, Mikhalkov has not changed the structure or framework of Reginald Rose's original screenplay. He has merely planted it into another culture.
As was true in "12 Angry Men," the jurors here are not identified by name. They are jurors, and for the entire film this is their sole identity.
Back and forth these men debate, reveal, expose and search for justice.
As was also true in "12 Angry Men," there's not a single weak performance in "12" and, despite the inherent limitations of filming in such a confined space, Mikhalkov's film never feels confined.
An Academy Award-nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this past year, "12" is one of those rare films that truly lives up to the greatness of its predecessor and does it proud, though it does run a tad long and Mikhalkov does take away some of the original's beautiful simplicity and, on occasion, over-reaches for dramatic effect.
Yet, "12" is also a reminder of why "12 Angry Men" remains such viable cinema so many years later...the messages, themes, ideals and desires that were present in 1957 remain present today.
"12" is a powerful and beautiful film, this is true. More importantly, "12" is a powerful and beautiful film that matters.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic