Editors' pick


12 movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama
In contemporary Moscow, 12 jurors must decide the fate of a young Chechen teenager accused of murdering his stepfather, a Russian army officer.
Starring: Sergei Makovetsky, Sergey Garmash, Aleksei Petrenko, Yuriy Stoyanov
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Running time: 2:33

Editorial Review

Unlike Sidney Lumet's 1957 movie adaptation of "12 Angry Men," which was shot in tense close-ups in a cramped room, Nikita Mikhalkov's "12" breathes and floats. It allows itself ample space to reimagine Reginald Rose's original stage play about a jury that deadlocks over a murder case. Whereas Lumet squeezed his actors into a tiny conference room clogged with cigarette smoke, Mikhalkov puts his men in a cavernous gymnasium.

A young Chechen man is accused of killing his adoptive father, a Russian military officer. Jurors set up camp on the floor of a basketball court, debating both at a portable table and from the far corners of the gym. They pace and perform and wander in and out of the shot. Because of this, the film seems organic and, at the same time, more artful.

In "12," characters engage each other at different times, passing the focus as the debate choreography evolves from buttoned-up certainty to freewheeling argument to a moral morass. The film transforms Rose's play into a ballet of sorts. The story is as much about movement as it is about words.

And it's not only about movement in the physical sense (the jurors reenacting the crime use wrestling mats and medicine balls) but also in the emotional sense. A man can move between doubt and certainty, from prejudice to empathy. Rose's story endures because it's fascinating to watch people confront themselves by confronting others. Throwing a dozen men with disparate life experiences into a room, and requiring them to collaborate and pass judgment on someone they've never met, is a recipe for humble pie.

If "12" is guilty of anything, it's running long. Stretching 2 1/2 hours, the movie is perhaps too accommodating to its wonderful, lively actors, whose every monologue and reaction certainly deserves to be spared from the cutting-room floor.

Mikhalkov adds an element unseen in any iteration of Rose's story: He shows the accused murderer concurrently, passing the time in his cell, and as a boy surviving a cruel military assault by the Russians and being rescued and adopted by a military officer.

Is that necessary? Only for making a statement about the cruelty of war, which may be one statement too many in an already issue-crowded field. But it further pulls the story out of familiar territory, heightening the drama and thickening the emotion. If Mikhalkov really wanted to reimagine the story, though, he might have thrown some women into the mix.

-- Dan Zak (May 1, 2009)

Contains violent images, disturbing content, brief sexual and drug references and smoking. In Russian with subtitles.