Overwrought, crazily ambitious, bracingly acted?
Guilty on all counts, it turns out, for 12, a Russian redo of Sidney Lumet's 1957 bare-bones jury-room drama 12 Angry Men.
Not that I'm complaining. Remakes, even the most accomplished of them, tend to be about as creatively vigorous as a fresh coat of eggshell-white and new beige drapes in the same well-maintained room; no one's ever going to accuse them of being too bold.
12, however, is just the opposite: brazen and unruly and daring, almost to a fault. Even if it never musters the lacerating intensity, the unsettling claustrophobia, of Lumet's original, it scores points for sheer audacity. Moreover, however it's received -- it earned an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film in 2008 -- it's never dull and frequently, ecstatically, entertaining.
In this adaptation, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, the accused is not a U.S. teenager but a Chechen youth (Apti Magnamaev) on trial for the killing of his adoptive Russian father.
As in the 1957 film, a sole juror (Sergei Makovetsky in the Henry Fonda role) is convinced of the accused's innocence and attempts to sway the opinion of the other 11. Pitted against him for the jury's fragmented soul is a bigoted cab driver (Sergey Garmash), seething under a cloud of hatred and anger. (In a small but pivotal role, director Mikhalkov himself portrays the jury foreman.)
Subtlety, it should be said, is not the film's strong point.
Intact as the skeleton of Reginald Rose's half-century-old screenplay may be, Mikhalkov ratchets the volume -- and the theatrics.
For one thing, he embellishes his version with personal revelations from each of the jurors, alongside flashbacks to the Chechen war itself.
For another, he jettisons the cramped quarters of Lumet's movie and transplants the deliberations to a disintegrating high school gym obviously meant to mirror Russia's state of decay. The expansive arena affords the actors greater reach in which to manoeuvre, but it also removes the characters from the original's pressure cooker environment.
Then again, Mikhalkov's film -- immersed in post-Soviet Russia and thick with in-your-face symbolism (thus a flittering sparrow unable to escape the gym) -- has much more on its mind than fidelity to Lumet's streamlined potboiler. So much so, in fact, that it's nearly an hour longer than its predecessor, although I nevertheless found it consistently engrossing, fuelled by gripping stories and images, even when the filmmakers drift into monologues and metaphors.
And for those willing to admire and accept 12 on its own terms, the rewards are deep and devastating.
(This film is rated P14-A)
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