Friday, December 11, 2009
Nikita Mikhalkov's "12"
In the typical flow, Hollywood discovers a powerful-but-low-budgeted idea in a foreign market, and wedges it into a palatable American shape, squeezing out everything that made the interesting original- and usually what makes the original interesting IS its provenance. But here's the reverse: Nikita Mikhalkov's "12," a Russian remake of Sidney Lumet's classic "12 Angry Men." The plot is essentially unaltered, its thespian veneer never shaken off: this is still a story of 12 jurors stuck in a room who watch their preconceptions slide away as they move away from a nearly unanimous "Guilty" verdict towards the analytical solution of a crime. It's powerful stuff, and Mikhalkov, (who directed the Academy Award winning "Burnt by the Sun") manages to imbue it with Russian significance: the alleged murderer is a Chechen immigrant, and characters catch themselves calling each other "Comrade" accidentally, then blushing. Fall-of-communism grievances are aired, xenophobia rears its ugly head, and there are more cathartic "acting" moments than you can shake a sickle-and-hammer at. It's an actor's flick, then and now, and the group of characters gathered here are memorable as their coats of propriety are shaken off: even when their detective work isn't logical the volume of their performances drown those concerns.
"12" is a little too long for its one-gym-room set-up (and conversely, I thought the flashback war scenes that take us out of the room were a cheat, lowering the net as it were.) Also, I didn't welcome its moments of magical realism: (the trespassing bird that signals - something; the shimmery fragmentation of reality that seems to guide a juror's quest for justice). It is nonetheless a suspenseful, brilliantly cast movie- fans of courtroom drama should not miss it.