Look out, Yefim Shubentsov, you drug addiction-fighting Ruskie, because now we've got "12 Mad Russians" to handle people's problems. Boy, this film sure does get carried away in its expanding, well, the original "12 Angry Men" film as a whole (Why is this a whole hour longer?), as well as the little bit of Russianness found within the film through the naturalized Czech immigrant, but hey, I'll run with it, because if any kind of nation was going to adopt this story concept, then Russia would definately be on the top "12" list (Get it?). I think I can see why they just went right ahead and cut the "Angry Men" out of this film's title, because it would be a bit redundant to say that Russians were angry about something, seeing as how they always seem to be a bit on the edge about something. Shoot, whether it be because of his face or whatever, Lee J. Cobb was scary enough, but I wouldn't want to come close to crossing an angry Russian, so I guess that means that we should probably be a bit careful around Nikita Mikhalkov, because I can see him still being mad as all get-out about "Burnt by Sun 2". Of course, he wouldn't be the only person mad about that film, or pair of films, or whatever, because of the 12 people who actually saw it, from my understanding, all of them hated it except for one guy who was probably French (Standing ovation at Cannes; what are you gonna do?) and may have the ambition to passionately state his points in hopes of turning the other 11 people over to his side. I'd imagine the 11 who are against it would probably say that the odd man out can try all he wants, and for however long he wants (Again, why is this over two-and-a-half hours long?), but where the idea that the kid who is on trial in this film isn't guilty is barely probable, the idea that "Burnt by the Sun 2" is good is pretty much way out there. Granted, I join everyone in the world other than the 12 people in question in having not seen "Burn by the Sun 2", but I can see it getting a little bit carried away, as this film also gets to be a bit carried away (Over two-and-a-half hours!), not to where it doesn't still reward as a strong film, but certainly to where it doesn't find itself with its share of problems.
"12 Angry Men" generally had enough kick to it to entertain much more often than not, and just that can be said about this film, yet "12 Angry Men" could go on for only so long before slipping into slow spells, and with this film having a whole nother hour worth of room for slow-down, you better believe that certain points bland up a bit, rarely, if ever to where the film is dull, but consistently to where you'll find yourself struggling to direct your full attention at this film's atmosphere. Again, this film engages more often than it lets you go, but the fact of the matter is that there are, in fact, points in this film that let you go, and enough of them for slowness to be cited as a relatively major blow momentum, which takes further damage from an aspect that was not present in this film's source material film: tonal unevenness. No, people, this film isn't quite as inconsistent with his tonal impact as certain other Nikita Mikhalkov films, yet some layer shifts within this atmosphere stand to be more organic, and perhaps would have if this film didn't sometimes get a bit extreme with some of its tonal layers, to where certain fluffier spots get to be a bit cheesy, while certain particularly emphatic points in atmosphere reinforcement get to be a smidge manipulative. The moments of subtlety issues during the handling of either lighter spots or heavier spots in tone are fairly limited in quantity, but they didn't have to be here in the first place, and they do as much damage to the engagement value of this film as the slow spots that would be more forgivable if it wasn't for this film's biggest consequential issue: its simply being too darn long. At 96 minutes, 1957's "12 Angry Men" was a bit too long to be as minimalist as it was, and while this film expands its focus outside of the jurors' meeting room (A gym, for some reason, in this version), and is generally tighter than I feared it would be, we're still talking about a mostly minimalist film that's pushing two-and-a-half hours, and not always too organically, bloating things up a bit too much, either with such major changes as dramatizations of the backstory of the young man who is being tried for murder that drive a bit of inconsistency within focal flow, or through mere excess material - most of which is expository (If you thought that Lee J. Cobb's "Juror #3" character's going on and on about a brawl he had with his son was a bit too much information that came in from out of nowhere, woah boy, are you in for a ride with this film, which seems to eventually devolve into an all-out duel of stories that just barely pertain to the case) - that drives repetition into story structure altogether, and calls more to attention the natural shortcomings within this story concept that the final product works its heart out to expand upon. The padding within this film isn't quite as overbearing as it could have, as surely as the tonal issues and slow spots aren't are severe as they could have been, but consequential issues still stand, and not alone as a damage dealer to this film, whose somewhat thin story concept lays down a rocky foundation that could leave the final product to collapse into underwhelmingness. Needless to say, through all of its shortcomings, both consequential and unavoidable, this film accels as much as it can, which is enough for the final product to compel thoroughly, or at least deliver on commendable style.
It wasn't exactly stunning, largely because there was quite a bit of technical limitation at the time, but Boris Kaufman's photographic efforts for "12 Angry Men" were commendable enough to raise something of a standard that this film most definately tops, as Vladislav Opelyants not only captures the tight scope that Kaufman used to help define this story's environment and, by extension, atmosphere, but delivers on richly crisp and dynamic plays with lighting and coloring that is consistently handsome, often stunning and sometimes further supplementary to the distinct style that helps in defining this film. If this remake improves upon its source material in no other department, it's the stylistic department, because where you were bound to get a bit too used to the style of "12 Angry Men" after a while, it's very rarely easy to ignore the sharpness in Opelyants' tastes, which breathe much life into artistic style, and even compliment this film's promising substance. There are natural flaws in this story concept, sure, but it was strong enough to be made into a rewarding film in 1957, and remains promising to this day, so this film has room to accel as an execution of worthy ideas, and it sure does deliver, at least in the writing department, for although Nikita Mikhalkov's, Alexander Novototsky-Vlasov's and Vladimir Moiseenko's expansions on Reginald Rose's fine script for "12 Angry Men" is flawed in plenty of areas, there's still quite a bit of strong writing to this film, much of which stays faithful to the sharpness within the writing of "12 Angry Men", retaining lively characterization and generally clever explorations of thematic depth, and mostly tight debate sequences that unravel the case around which conflict is centered intriguingly, particularly when colored up with dialogue that... I guess is sharper than that of the original film (It's certainly translated into some snappy subtitles). This film's script may, in plenty of places, be as sharp as the original's script, but when it comes to punch-up, this film kicks things up a notch, which isn't to say that this film's undeniable improvements upon its source material end at just the dialogue department, for although the expansions upon this plot aren't too necessary, the scope expansion that, through flashbacks, shows us the often powerful subplot centered around the troubled past of the tried young man who everyone is talking about is generally effective in its keeping things from getting a bit too repetitious, and augmenting the weight of this film's story, which goes further expanded within the central jury disucssion segment, whose considerable expansions upon the debates between and development behind our leads may not be too necessary, or entirely good for pacing, but still get you more attached to this mythology. In the writing department, there's plenty to commend, and when it comes to direction, Nikita Mikhalkov's efforts aren't too shabby either, being undeniably flawed, particularly when it comes to plays with the dynamicity and subtlety of tone, but generally worthwhile, delivering on plenty of nifty stylistic choices, - particularly the ones that play with Enzo Meniconi's and Andrei Zaitsev's snappily great editing - as well as plays with atmosphere that are generally quite effective in their tensing things up, if not drawing emotional depth that connect you more with the humanity within this film that is truly brought to life by inspired acting. It's debatable whether or not the acting in this film tops the acting that was all but rather ahead of its time in '57's "12 Angry Men", but by its own right, this is a well-acted film, with even young Apti Magamaev being compelling as the troubled young potential murderer who stands at the center of our leads' debates, and when it comes to the leads themselves, they all share sparkling chemistry that livens up individual charisma, yet just about everyone has his time to shine in their fully defining the distinguished humanity within their characters, sometimes through emotional range, and consistently through a commanding presence that stands as one of the strongest factors that power this film about as much as it can be powered, given its issues. No, people, this film isn't all that good, but it is quite good, and initially shows signs of being as good as "12 Angry Men", before going on build upon the meat of its source material and, by the ends, assume its status as - dare I say it? - a superior remake, not to where it obscures its many issues, but certainly to where it gives you what "12 Angry Men" gave, and then some.
To close this case, slow spells dumb down momentum a bit, much like the occasional piece of tonal unevenness that is sometimes bookended by slightly manipulative tense spots and somewhat cheesy fluffier spots, while often repetitious and rather unnecessary material bloating reflects the minimalism in this story concept that sparks natural shortcomings that could have shaken the final product into underwhelmingness, something that does not claim this film, which is flawed, but not so much so that you can easily deny the handsome visual style and generally sharp script, direction and acting that compliment what fair bit of kick there is within this subject matter, and makes Nikita Mikhalkov's "12" a mostly entertaining, consistently compelling and all around surprisingly strong conversational drama that improves upon its source material and rewards by its own right.
3.25/5 - Strong