Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
A dagger stabs through a thick stack of paper, showing how easily it would have passed through a man’s heart.
The verdict for 12 Moscow jurors deciding the fate of a Chechen youth accused of murdering his Russian stepfather seems just as simple: guilty as charged.
Yet one of the men vacillates, remembering his own troubled youth, and sets in motion a series of accusations and confessions from the other jurors that turns rough justice into a masterful intrigue.
Nikita Mikhalkov’s Oscar-nominated version of Reginald Rose’s classic story of crime and punishment, already well told through Sidney Lument’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men, is less a remake than a brilliant reinvention.
He remains true to the story basics but transforms the spirit of the drama into an exposé of Russian society and its many failings.
All of the actors are first-rate, including Mikhalkov in the role of the jury foreman whose own late-arriving story ups the ante of a narrative that never flags, even at an epic 159 minutes.
The standout is Sergey Garmash as a racist cab driver.
Mikhalkov breathes air into the room by setting the jurors in a dilapidated high school gym for their deliberations, which allow them to make use of innovative props and to demonstrate the sad state of Russian infrastructure.
A small bird that flits in and out between the holes in the room acts as metaphor for the fate of the Chechen youth (Apti Magamayev) who sits in solitary confinement.
This most American of courtroom sagas has been masterfully transferred to Russian soil.
Overlooked at theatres in its spring release, and a runner-up for Oscar glory in the Best Foreign-Language Film category in 2008, it deserves the full attention of discerning DVD buyers and renters.