12 (Nikita Mikhalkov) 2007

12 Angry Men is a concept like A Christmas Carol that has been done way too many times.  Hell, when I saw a King of the Hill episode pay “homage” to it I felt my head was going to explode from rage.  The original is a masterpiece and there is no topping it.  So it took me a while to check out the Russian remake simply titled “12”.  I had heard from some reliable reviewers I read it does a great job.

The director of this movie definitely does his own thing and doesn’t just pay homage to Lumet.  Sure the basic plot structure is the same and so are most of the characters but he alters several things.  For one, he doesn’t make the film claustrophobic like the original.  For reasons of renovation, the jurors do their deliberating in a high school gymnasium.  We also did not know the defendant in the original movie where here we get flashbacks into his life.  This is actually the most effective alteration this film has to make.  We follow this boy as he grows up in a war torn country and these sections are a terrific statement on Russia both then and now.

The case reminds most of the jurors in some way to some incident in their past.  Some of their backstories are interesting, however one in particular is odd.  It doesn’t help that the character is seemingly certifiably insane.  He tells a meandering 10 minute story about how an uncle got drunk, gambled away 50,000 dollars, shot up a bank and held people hostage.  The chief of police showed up, saw he was a good egg, didn’t press charges and got the man reformed back to a productive member of society again.  All the while, the character is twitching, convulsing, stuttering, screaming, and doing just plain odd things like spraying nose spray in his eyes and ears and cursing at the world.  Even the other characters look at him in disbelief and ask what the f*ck that had to do with ANYTHING!  The character barely says two words after that big lipped alligator moment (damn it I can’t believe I used that joke).

I mention the overacting by that guy, but really it’s that way with a lot of the actors.  Our Lee J. Cobb equivalent asks one of the wormier guys to imaging the scenario and even recreates the scenario for him.  The wormy guy gets so worked up he cries out for his mommy and runs to the bathroom puking.  There is giving some latitude for kind of stage play overacting and then there is plain going off the deep end.

Even the Lee J. Cobb role is overdone.  Cobb does not start out raving mad in the original, but as the deliberations go on and the space gets tighter and tighter the tension finally explodes and his inner racism comes out.  In this movie the Cobb equivalent starts off clearly biased/mentally unstable to damn near homicidal at one point.

One of the most questionable decisions has to be when they decide to go for a twist at the end.

During the course of the deliberations the jury somehow conclusively proves a corrupt building contractor murdered the family and set this Chechnyan boy up to be the fall guy.  The final juror to hold out (who I guess is some former military or KGB agent I dunno) suggests they all vote guilty to keep the boy safe in prison until they can work out some form of protection for him.  Later they would go to the DA with the evidence and get the kid released from prison.  The rest of the jurors agree that is a bullshit plan and vote not guilty.  The boy gets released from prison, the KGB guy takes the boy under his wing and helps him plot the revenge assassinations of his father’s killers.  And I think Jesus somehow takes the form of a bird to help in those deliberations however I’m more sketchy on that one (it’s hard to explain).  I feel this kind of betrays the point of the original.  It didn’t matter if the boy was guilty or not, it was whether the system worked and the jury was convinced he was not guilty.  By doing this, they make “12” end like some ABC mystery of the week.  It’s just odd.
Now despite that, I thought the film was alright.  I applaud the director for going in an original direction and trying something new with this remake.  Because if you don’t try anything new then what’s the point?  I just feel that it doesn’t quite make it with some questionable acting, some plot changes that don’t quite pan out, and a strange ending.


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