Sunday, May 01, 2016

OVP: 12 (2007)

Film: 12 (2007)
Stars: Sergei Makovetsky, Nikita Mikhalkov, Sergei Garmash, Valentin Gaft, Alexei Petrenko, Yuri Stoyanov
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Foreign Language Film-Russia)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

12 Angry Men, the first time you see it, is really a remarkable motion picture.  I remember seeing it as a young man and being sort of spellbound, particularly since it was one of my first introductions to both Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb.  The patriotism of the film, the way that bigotry seeps into the psyche of people without even realizing it, and the claustrophobic excellence of the picture keeps it moving at an alarmingly brisk pace, where you feel like every moment feels relevant.  I'd argue it's Sidney Lumet's finest picture, and that's saying something.

As a result, though, going into the movie once again, knowing roughly how it's going to end, and knowing that the Russian counterpart of the film is 160 minutes long (ouch), I was a little bit leery.  This DVD, I'll admit, has been sitting on my counter for months just waiting to be viewed.  I didn't know if I could stomach sitting through such a long motion picture with a story I knew by heart.  Unfortunately, my trepidation was more than justified.  Not only is the film predictable, to the point where it too closely mirrors the original, but it's also horribly edited, loses a lot of the potency by leaving the jury room, and acted with such bombast that I'm staggered that such a film, particularly a film with a thinly-veiled political message that AMPAS could hardly have supported, would gain access to an Oscar nomination.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film, for those unfamiliar with the original, is about a group of twelve men (heaven forbid we have a woman on the jury) who are charged with finding out who killed a man in what appears, initially, to be an open-and-shut case.  As the film progresses, we find that one sole juror, standing by his own convictions, is able to ensure that every other juror more closely examines the evidence and in the process they realize that the young man didn't commit the murder, but instead it was perpetrated by a group of people who will likely try to harm the boy in the future.  There is a major twist at the end of the picture where a secret service officer tries to extend the hand of justice a little more fully, saying they should convict the young man and then try to find the killers, in hopes that he will not die while on the outside, but only he undertakes such a task.

The film is filled to the brim with overacting, which is perhaps the first and most off-putting part of the picture.  So many of the characters (and it's difficult to tell which is which in terms of casting, I apologize, as it's not quite obvious which juror is which number in the same way that Lumet's film gives us) are filled with random tricks, ticks, and outbursts you can hardly tell how these men actually function in the real world.  There's very few guys that are exhibiting normal behavior, especially in the same way that Lumet's film does, and you feel like they have cast this jury with several mentally-imbalanced people.  There's one man (the one who takes on the Lee J. Cobb role from the original) who is so blatantly and completely racist you wonder how he doesn't have a constant black eye, while a television producer is presented as basically insane.  It's not clear in his case if he's suffering from drug withdrawals or what the reason he's so bizarre is, but if it's something that's clearly a wink to Russian audiences (from what I have read he apparently mirrors a famous Russian producer), it is lost internationally.

The movie loses a lot of its potency from lazy editing.  The film doesn't stick to the powerful claustrophobic measures brought about by Lumet's film, frequently interrupting the men in the room to see what is going on with the suspect and learn about his childhood.  What made the original film so potent is that we knew next to nothing about the accused, and only had our own sense of justice and the morality of the jurors to fall back upon, but essentially seeing that the young man is innocent you lose a lot of that power.  Additionally, the film should be at LEAST an hour shorter-the movie seems to relish, long, oftentimes pointless soliloquies and broadly-sketched racism and assumptions being aired, and by the time it's over you want to have fast-forwarded through entire sequences of the picture.

Finally, it's worth noting that while the twist was interesting (after all, it does seem likely that the accused will die outside of prison), having the only person who is willing to go to the mat for the boy be a secret service officer makes me feel like this borders onto propaganda for the Putin government.  After all, the ending is more like the end of a Bourne picture than a drama, and the weird musical editing followed by the "Juror #8" character coming back to free the bird who was trapped in the jury room-it was too much, too sharp of a directional turn, and particularly for the left-leaning AMPAS, I'm shocked they endorsed such a picture, even if Putin wasn't as reviled by Americans then as he is nine years later.

Those are my thoughts on this pointless endeavor-how about yours?  Did you actually like the film, or were you like me wishing that you were watching the 1957 classic?  How do you think a film like this got an Oscar nomination?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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