This Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film (2008) directed by Nikita Mikhalkov plays like Twelve Angry Men meets The Usual Suspects. The core of the narrative follows 12 jurors in Russia charged with deciding the fate of an 18-year-old Chechen boy accused of killing his stepfather, an officer in the Russian army. Over the course of their deliberations, the voting swings from nearly everyone assuming guilt to slowly reconsidering based on their own unique cultural and personal experiences — many stemming from the unhealed wounds of the Russian-Chechen conflict.
Mikhalkov builds a conspiracy theory into the drama and offers up a sometimes surreal cavalcade of flashbacks that keep audiences entranced despite the majority of the action taking place in an old school gymnasium that has been converted into the jurors’ chambers.
The slow-rising heat of the encounters and dreamy perspectives ping-pong between the ultra-serious, life-or-death nature of the stakes, the thrilling unraveling of the possible secret and a surprising degree of humor, both natural and broad, that sets 12 apart from any of the films it might be compared to.
And one can only hope there’s no Hollywood remake down the road, leaving 12 as a true peek into another part of the world whose current history remains largely unknown to U.S. audiences. (tt stern-enzi) Grade: B