A Hollywood remake of a popular foreign film is the general route taken to appease American audiences unwilling to work through a movie by reading the subtitles. Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalov went in the opposite direction by borrowing the blueprints from the 1957 Oscar-nominated classic "12 Angry Men" in this loose remake set in contemporary Moscow.
A jury of 12 must unanimously decide the fate of a teenage boy accused of murdering with a knife his adoptive father, a former military officer living on a meager pension. The group of very different individuals from a multitude of backgrounds deliberate in a makeshift jury room in a school gymnasium.
This copycat dramatic character study pales in comparison to the excellence in all cinematic aspects of the original, which was directed by Sidney Lumet from a story and screenplay written by Reginald Rose.
Long-winded personal stories from each juror eat up time and detract from ultimately deciding guilt or innocence. There are also flashbacks to the boy's youth when he sees his parents murdered and his home destroyed by fire during a war between Russia and rebel forces from Chechnya.
The movie is way too long with too many detours along the way. The running time of more than 2 ½ hours exceeds the tightly edited original by a full hour.
They bring up the term "beyond reasonable doubt" used in American courts. With the death penalty banned in Russia, the boy faces a life sentence with no parole. One lone juror holds out after an initial show of hands. The group goes over the evidence and the testimony of the witnesses. They even recreate the floor plan of the crime scene. The camera goes up, down and circles the room attempting to bring various angles to men sitting around a table in a claustrophobic setting.
After the jury appears to have established the truth and reached a verdict, the movie throws out another twist concerning the adolescent's safety. There is a lot of material to absorb in one sitting with no breathing room as you must rapidly read the subtitles to keep up with the story. Some in the audience may become frustrated and decide to doze off.
This admirable effort was one of the five finalists at the 2008 Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The dialogue is in Russian and Chechen with English subtitles. The better alternative is to check out the 1957 original motion picture now available on DVD with a distinctive cast of famous actors including Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam and Jack Klugman.
The Russian knockoff is now playing exclusively at the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"