Pub date March 10, 2009
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW In Nikita Mikhalkov’s Oscar-winning 1994 film Burnt by the Sun, set in the Stalin-era Soviet Union, a character corrects himself in addressing his companions as gentlemen, saying, "Excuse me, comrades." A reverse correction signals the changed times in 12, where Mikhalkov takes up a more modern, post-Soviet tale, using a familiar framework to tell it. Based on Sidney Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men (1957), the film follows the jury proceedings of a Moscow murder trial in which an orphaned teenage Chechen boy is accused of killing his adoptive father, a Russian army officer who rescued him from the war-obliterated village where he’d lost his parents. Throughout a long day and night, the jurors (whose foreman is played by Mikhalkov) deliberate, battle, come unhinged, and reveal, through prejudiced tirades and intelligent argument alike, a flawed legal system and a corrupt society that fail to function in tandem. In a departure from the original, 12 releases the viewer at brief intervals to visit the prisoner in his chilly cell and to witness childhood scenes of poignant and piercing clarity. But at nearly three hours, the film makes us feel the time crawling by and its effect on these men, locked away from their lives in a room they expected to sit in for half an hour before consigning a young man to life in prison. And the fractures and damage we witness in each of them as the hours pass seem to form a mosaic of modern Russian society, fractured and damaged itself by the traumas of its political and cultural history.

12 opens Fri/13 in Bay Area theaters.