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Images of a pair of feet hurrying down building stairs are interrupted by a title card reading, “Seek the truth not in the mundane details of daily life but in the essence of life itself.” A dreamlike jumble of bucolic and apocalyptic memories of rural life in war torn Chechnya, and a chorus of disembodied speakers from past and present coalesce into the single voice of a Russian judge charging a jury.


The memories belong to an orphaned Chechen youth (Apti Magamaev) momentarily nodding off while on trial in Moscow for murdering his adopted father, a Russian military officer. “The decision must be unanimous,” the judge instructs the jury before the boy is led away to await their verdict. A diminutive bailiff (Alexander Adashian) escorts the 12 men controlling the boy’s future into a makeshift jury room in a school gym next door to the courthouse. The bailiff confiscates the juror’s cell phones but assures them, “You’ll be done in twenty minutes.” As he locks the 12 into the gym, somewhere in the courthouse a guard turns a key on the accused Chechen youth.


Relieved to be out of the courtroom, the jury members snack, complain, and kid one another. A Harvard educated television Producer (Yuri Stoyanov) has a business lunch that afternoon. A touring comic Actor (Mikhail Efremov) has a train to catch. A Surgeon (Sergey Gazarov) with a family drug history is upset by the discovery of a syringe. The case appears to be a simple one and at the behest of a benignly authoritative jury member the group selects to be Foreman (Mikhalkov), the group sits down at a long table in the center of the gym and votes on whether or not to send the Chechen youth to jail for life by show of hands. 11 choose to convict. To their shock, 1 votes to acquit. The sole dissenter, a thoughtful Engineer (Sergey Makovetsky), explains that he believes they acted too fast and without the amount of discussion such a grave decision warrants.


A native Muscovite Cabbie (Sergey Garmash) faces off with the Engineer, demanding to know why he should have pity on a “stinking Chechen dog.” The Cabbie makes anti-Semitic remarks to an older Jewish man (Valentin Gaft) who votes to acquit in a
second ballot done on paper. The Jewish man observes that the accused man ’s lawyer appeared disinterested in his own defense. Alone in his cell the Chechen youth flashes back to his childhood in the Caucasus.


In an effort to sway the remaining ten men, the Engineer takes the floor to tell a personal story of alcoholism and redemption. The Cabbie and an addled Transit Worker (Alexey Petrenko) counter with declarations of hatred and distrust for non-Russians that the Cabbie says make him “feel like an alien in my own city.” In childhood flashback, the accused meets a group of Chechen partisans before being angrily escorted away by his biological father.


The Engineer asks to examine the murder weapon – a military issue knife belonging to a partisan seen in the prior flashback. The Jewish man tells a strange but true story of his father successfully wooing a Nazi SS officer’s wife, and the Transit Worker presents a bizarre saga about his uncle improvising a hostage crisis. The Surgeon, who is from the Caucasus, faces off with the Cabbie and the Actor now votes to acquit, leaving 7 men still upholding a guilty verdict.


After a sparrow flies into the cavernous room seeking shelter from the harsh Moscow winter and a flashback to a grisly Chechen firefight reveals the accused man’s own personal loss, the jurors improvise a recreation of the crime using the space and athletic equipment at hand. The experiment leaves the Surgeon and the Producer convinced of the boy’s innocence. Enraged by the new majority, the Cabbie acts-out a grisly paranoid rape and murder scenario with the neurotic Producer, who breaks down and impulsively changes his vote back to guilty. In his cell the Chechen youth silently recalls his rescue by the Russian officer he’s accused of murdering while in the gymnasium, where it’s now night, the lights fail. The Surgeon and the Cabbie spar over the death blow itself and the tide shifts further in favor of exoneration. The Engineer’s doubts about the credibility of a star witness and submitted photo evidence provide more mitigation.

Movie information

Release Date (USA): 2009-03-04
Rating (USA): NA
Release Date (UK):
Rating (UK) : NA
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Producer:
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Writer/s: Vladimir Moiseyenko ; Aleksandr Novototsky

Cast

Sergei Makovetsky
Sergey Garmash
Aleksei Petrenko
Yuriy Stoyanov
Sergei Gazarov
Nikita Mikhalkov
Mikhail Yefremov
Valentin Gaft
Aleksey Gorbunov
Sergei Artsybashev

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