When the twelve primary players of Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12 enter the school gymnasium that is their makeshift jury room, they take a moment to explore their surroundings — plinking on an old piano here, fussing with a broken television there. When they finally take their seats to vote on the murder trial they’ve been gathered to decide, one juror shoots a quick free throw with a stray basketball, which lodges itself firmly between the hoop and the backboard.
The image isn’t just a symbol for the hours of deadlock about to ensue — it’s also the tipoff for why, in revamping the 1957 American classic 12 Angry Men for modern-day Russia, Mikhalkov decided to move the action from Sidney Lumet’s cramped, bare-walled jury room to the sprawling expanse of the gym. Most other hallmarks of the original are faithfully translated: a young minority accused of killing a parent; an all-white, mostly middle-aged jury; a dissenter who upsets the otherwise unanimous guilty verdict. But the change of scenery shifts the emphasis away from character development (50 years after the original, the ending can hardly be a surprise) and toward national context. Newly unfettered, the camera soars about a space littered with visual metaphors — the suspended basketball, a heating pipe that was “temporarily” hung in the school 40 years ago and remains in shocking disrepair, and the gym itself, where the action is set because the real jury room isn’t ready yet — all of which deliver a poetic critique of Russian justice as a system still hopelessly behind the times.
12 is slowed down by some pedantic stretches of debate, which bring the running time to an exacting 159 minutes. But absorbing monologues, beautiful camerawork, and a revival of a hallowed story that feels not just fresh, but vital, are patience’s worthy reward.