Starting out to remake a beloved classic and all-time great of cinema is risky business, and in many respects 12 fails to achieve the same success as its inspiration, 12 Angry Men. That it remains at all watchable is solely on the strength of its performances.

When a young Chechen man is accused of killing his adoptive uncle and faces a Russian court, he will have his fate placed in the hands of a jury composed of representatives of the spectrum of Russian society – those longing for the return of Communism will mingle with former soldiers, artists and capitalists.12 That this disparate group are near-unanimous in their belief of the guilt of the accused perhaps reflects the widely held opinion of Chechens within Russia. When one of their number stands up and proclaims he believes in the Chechen’s innocence, however, the remainder will be forced to examine their prejudices amidst an atmosphere of anger and confrontation.

Much like 12 Angry Men, the film contains several striking performances, with the Lee J. Cobb character (this time played by Sergei Garmash) again the standout. Garmash brings such anger and resentment to his turn as the racist cabbie that his pivotal character is a believable antagonist. Other performances are also strong, although the role saved for writer/director Nikita Mikhalkov is unnecessarily flashy.

12 is replete with flashbacks and cut sequences that provide depth to the character of the accused, although these are often repetitive and unnecessary – who needs to see footage of him pacing his holding cell again and again (and again)? Additionally, there is one sequence that is replayed over and over again, gradually becoming frankly annoying and eventually revealed to be not that important anyway. These decisions are confusing to say the least.

Although other reviewers have commented they enjoyed the expansiveness of the gymnasium setting in comparison with 12 Angry Men‘s tightly packed jury room, it is bewildering when one considers that much of the tension and dramatic energy of that film is derived from the characters’ confinement. Mikhalkov also sees fit to allow a(n apparently) symbolic bird fly into the room, although its meaning is trite at best.

Finally, 12 runs a mammoth 159 minutes and is filled with prolonged character development sequences that in the final assessment don’t add enough value to justify the flab they force upon the film. The pacing suffers from the disconnection that can occur when far too many flashback sequences interrupt the flow of the main storyline, and the dramatic twist and eventual resolution border on absurd.

12 is a hard film to recommend, although it is important to bear in mind that it was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, and also for a Golden Lion at the 2007 Venice Film Festival. It does offer some insight into modern Russian society and ethnic tensions in the region, although this does not seem enough to justify one’s time or patience.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 24th October 2008
Hoopla Factor: 2 stars

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