It takes a pretty be pair to remake a classic film like Sydney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. A pair this big can be found on Nikita Mikhailov who updated the film favorite and adapted it to the complicated relations between Russia and Chechnya. Mikhailov won critical acclaim with his 1996 film Burnt by the Sun.
The plot of 12 is vastly similar to it’s predecessor (which was released in 1957), but also manages to be different enough to make it’s own mark on the cinematic world. The central acts of the film still focus on a jury of twelve men, charged with deciding the fate of a young man. But instead of Lumet’s version, where the men are deciding whether or not to send the boy to the chair, they are simply deciding on whether or not to send a boy to jail for life (obviously, since Russia doesn’t have the death penalty). Instead of focusing on class differences, Mikhailov 12 examines Russia’s sexist and racist (and especially anti-Semitic) views). Where Lumet’s version latest about 90 minutes, Mikhailov boasts almost 160 minutes.
This extra time allowed Mikhailov to feature footage of the young boy’s back story, as well as some follow up footage that provides a little extra explanation of the stories ending. Yes, the story (co-written with Mikhailov by Vladimir Moiseyenko) provides it’s own twist ending that will leave you guessing up until the last few moments.
The cinematography is brilliant thanks to virtuoso Vladislav Opelyants (who happens to be working with Mikhailov and Moiseyenko on Burnt by the Sun 2). The acting is some of the best to come out of Russia in years. In fact, despite feeling inherently Russian, 12 will strike a more universal chord with its audience than any Russian film has been able to in the last few years. The Chechen/Russian conflict one of the more overlooked in current world news (but who knows, it may some day become a more stylish cause to support, like Tibet’s), but the themes found in the film need no background knowledge in order to feel poignant. 12 offers suspense, thrills, and a required emotional investment that most will be surprised by. Mikhailov has proven himself a master of the craft, and 12. should not be skipped, the Academy knew what it was doing when it threw it a Best Foreign Language Film nod in 2008.