For numerically titled Russian movies of the moment, stick with 4 instead of 12. Old soul Nikita Mikhalkov’s appropriation of the 12 Angry Men template is a bloated series of harangues that feels too long even before its full 154 minutes have shuffled by. A Moscow jury is sequestered in a cluttered school gym (for lack of suitable facilities) to hash out a unanimous verdict on a young Chechen accused of murder, addressing issues of retribution, rule of law, and Russian cultural identity along the way.
Dramatically, the process of consensus is ditched for a kind of polemical national psychotherapy session via juror venting jags. A hard-liner cabbie, an effete TV exec, a Caucasus-born physician, and others chew their way through chunky, laboriously blocked speeches, their voices getting a slightly theatrical echo in the sprawling gym. Mikhalkov’s direction charts a predictable sinewave of climaxes and lulls, and further saps the film’s energy by cutting away to messy long shots.
Periodically, the context of violence and retribution is bluntly driven home through manipulative, often grisly scenes from an urban war zone; the accused in his jail cell is also deployed for a mawkish visual refrain. Mikhalkov is best known for his 1994 Oscar-winner Burnt by the Sun, and his latest was shot during a hiatus on Burnt II. But 12 is the sort of foreign-language import that is credited with an air of dispatch-from-a-nation importance but that doesn’t hold up as a film.