Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Movies: 12

This remake of the intriguing 12 Angy Men is a bloated parade of sentimental nonsense, watchable only because it is a remake in Russian (one is always more forgiving of pap if it comes in foreign tongue). There is a radical twist—the boy on trial is not just a ragamuffin; he's a Chechen ragamuffin—but the filmmaker wastes it. He seems to want to comment not only against the racism and classism protested in the original, but also against war and genocide. To that end, he intercuts the jury's deliberation scenes with flashback shots of the Chechen boy knife dancing with soldiers, seeing his parents shot dead, hiding amongst corpses from continuous gunfire, and holding his dog at the moment that its shot dead by a stray bullet.

If you like dogs, I suppose that will move you, and if that were the only taste of sap in the film's entirety, I'd let it go. But it's not. The film ends with Henry Fonda's character talking to a tiny bird that had gotten trapped in the deliberation room (a school gym, whose tawdry state provides opportunities for certain of the jurors to rail against the government). The bird, like the boy, is given the opportunity to remain trapped inside, where he will be safe, or to be let free, where the swirling snow will freeze him (the boy isn't in danger of freezing to death, but of being killed—since he has been a pawn all along, framed for a murder committed by a much more organized group (the government? capitalists?) in order to rid a building of an aged tenant and make way for new construction.

The production is certainly competent, but the script required heavy editing before filming, which it clearly didn't get. The first half of the film is watchable enough; it's enjoyable to watch individual characters unfold, open up, change sides. But the film's insistence on providing an opportunity for each of the 12 to break down, spill their guts, is at first exhausting and then cauterizing. By the last third, we know what to expect and we aren't interested it watching it play out. In a real room of 12 people, six or 10 may reveal themselves, but a few will always remain mysterious. But 12, by forcing each man to his breaking point, jumps the shark before it's half over.

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