Loosely based on the play and the film, “Twelve Angry Men,” Nikita Mikhalkov brings us 12. The film is set in present day Moscow and features twelve jury members who must unanimously decide the fate of a young Chechen boy, accused of killing his step-father, a Russian army officer.
The 12 men are ordered to congregate in an elementary school gymnasium and report their ballot: guilty or not guilty. Hastily, eleven men raise their hands deeming the young boy guilty, while one acquits. The other eleven men are anxious to hit the road, and resume their respective lives. Naturally, few people are amused by jury duty. This middle-aged engineer (Sergei Makovetsky), however, insists they’ve been rash in their decision, encouraging a least some discussion since this vote is, after all, regarding a human life.
A human life. That’s interesting. We’ve become so accustomed to death, or violence on screen – it’s so common for people to get attacked, or brutally murdered, or in this case, incarcerated for the rest of their lives, without anyone honestly considering the reality of the situation. These events that are often two seconds of tape, in reality, represent something life altering. The heightened reality that is cinema has almost trivialized these things, because they’re so frequent in film.
While tempted, these 12 men don’t just raise their hands, send the kid to jail, and call it a day. They spend almost eight hours rationalizing the entire case, considering the motivations behind the alleged crime, and considering the humanity of this young Chechen boy.
Each jury member represents an element of society – The cab driver, the musician, the doctor, etc. They each get their moment to recount a personal experience or confession that ultimately challenges the other eleven men to think about remorse. The film is nearly three hours, which is longer than even the most patient and diligent of viewers are inclined to sit in a movie theatre – but I wonder if the message would’ve been as effective had each man not given their two cents.
Even in Russia, during this racially intolerant, post-communist era where the war in Chechnya inspired much anti-Semitism: nothing was black and white. By the end of the film, even the men so committed to the persecution because of their social convictions – got soft. This entirely character/dialogue driven piece is sure to make you do some reevaluating.
After the near 3 hours that it took to watch this film, I can tell you that I was intrigued, but not necessarily solid. It was amazing in many ways, but I still don’t know how I felt about it. Go see it and let me know what you think in the comments! Perhaps you can come to a more clear conclusion than myself
12 has a limited release nationwide March 6th. Check out the trailer below…