Thursday, 6 April 2017

12 Angry Men (1957)

Fig 1 - 12 Angry Men Poster
12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama adapted from a screenplay of the same name by Reginald Rose and marks the first feature-length outing by director Sidney Lumet. The film primarily takes place in one room, in which a panel of twelve unnamed jurors must make a unanimous decision on whether or not to sentence a young man to death following an extensive murder case. Initially, all but one of the men are in agreement that the young man is guilty of killing his father, much to the exasperation of his peers. It is Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) who brings it upon himself to at least call to question any 'reasonable doubt' by which the man may be innocent and thus, one by one begins to convince his cohorts to rethink their verdict.

I remember watching 12 Angry Men for the first time, perhaps ten years ago, and being absolutely captivated by it. As such, I knew going in a second time that I was a fan of the film, but fortunately enough, due to my terrible memory, I was able to watch with little recollection of the original viewing. That being said, and for whatever reason, this time around I was even more floored by just how remarkable this film is.

What the film excels at right off the mark is establishing an incredibly simple scenario regarding an incredibly complex decision. It wastes no time in letting the audience know that the jury must reach a unified verdict on the outcome of this trial. A trial which we have little to no knowledge about. Then to bring the jury into a confined, sweltering room in which the majority are expecting to leave in quick succession, sets up the least ideal circumstances under which an anomaly should occur. The anomaly being the opposing vote on the verdict. This singular act reveals not only that there may be further evidence in defense of the accused, but reveals also the character and principals of each individual juror. The way in which each character is masterfully written establishes their ability (and in some cases, inability) to play devil's advocate and comprehend any reasonable argument against their own fixated perspective.

Fig 2 - 12 Angry Men - The jury
One particularly powerful scene involves an unwarranted rant by Juror #10 (Ed Begley), a vehement racist whose argument against the accused based on his ethnicity, one by one, brings each and every juror to literally turn against him. It soon becomes clear that no man present shares his close-minded views and as such, he is outcast from the debate. The scene makes an important statement in that, up until this moment, every argument had been justified by some form of evidence. However, Juror #10's inherent prejudice against the young man made his argument utterly invalid, establishing the fact that the jury were conflicted only by the state of the evidence and not by the colour of the man's skin. For a film set during the establishing years of the Civil Rights Movement, this felt like a particularly progressive racial stance and gives the film a much more timeless appeal as a result.

On the whole, every performance is pretty spectacular. Despite the fact that only two of the jurors are ever named, they are all given time to establish their personalities in how they interact and what they discuss during intermissions. Henry Fonda does a fantastic job at delivering a likable yet determined performance as the initial 'doubter', who evidently appreciates those who gradually come to empathise with his reasoning. As his antithesis, Lee J. Cobb as Juror #3 does a similarly great job in passionately exclaiming his arguments against Juror #8, which culminates in a particularly moving breakdown towards the end.

If this film wasn't one of my favourites before, it certainly is now. A phenomenal script, stellar cast and gripping story make 12 Angry Men an indisputable front-runner for one of the greatest pictures of all-time.


Fig. 1 12 Angry Men Poster (1957) From: 12 Angry Men - Directed by: Sidney Lumet

Fig. 1 12 Angry Men Screenshot (1957) From: 12 Angry Men - Directed by: Sidney Lumet

1 comment:

  1. Great film - I showed this to the 2nd years this year.