To be extremely reductive, 12 is the really long Russian version of the melodrama 12 Angry Men. To expand a bit on that, 12 is sorta like being stuck in a room for two-and-a-half hours with a bunch of your gassy, emotionally damaged uncles. For all of its obvious detractions (the length, the overwrought histrionics, the fact that there are inexplicably no angry women in this 12-person jury), director Nikita Mikhalkov successfully examines cultural tensions in Russia in a film that, in lesser hands, could easily have collapsed under a dated framework.
Tackling the stage play best remembered in Sidney Lumet's famous 1957 film 12 Angry Men is a ballsy move, and this Russian adaptation puts a new spin on the chestnut, with the inclusion of the horrors of war in Chechnya and prejudices against immigrants in Russia. Twelve (angry, male) jurors are gathered in a school gymnasium, which serves as a makeshift jury room, to deliberate over a seemingly clear-cut murder case. Through a series of arduous arguments, personal stories, and reenacted dramatics, the jurors debate the verdict and future of a young Chechen boy who stands accused of killing his adoptive father. Much amateur sleuthing is involved.
For being a modern-day reimagining, there are some strange and pointed 1950s anachronisms in the film. (The most levelheaded juror questions a female witness' testimony because of her base, cruel "female jealousy"—and seriously, a jury of one's peers is made up of a dozen white middle-aged men!?) But overall, 12 is very well acted, full of relevance about life in Russia; it's a quite good, if unasked for, remake of a classic drama, with the original's same sense of stifling claustrophobia and frustration. In some ways, it's actually a little too good at conveying that "stuck in a room with a bunch of prickly old men" itchiness.