12 Angry Men is one of best courtroom dramas in the history of cinema. Even though it is an older film, it is also a refreshing take on courtroom dramas. On the surface, this film is a pure drama about the courtroom, but it goes much, much deeper than that. I was discussing in an earlier review (Dial M for Murder) about the use of a single location. Well, this film inhabits that single location very much so, and the film is actually famous for that. Outside of three minutes, the film takes place in a single New York City courtroom. That works very well in this film takes to the expert directing by first-time director Sidney Lumet and veteran cinematographer Boris Kaufman. The film is expertly shot and the use of the focal length’s shots allow the audience to feel more of each character’s feelings. Lumet later discussed how a “lens plot” occurred to him. As the movie progressed, he changed the lenses to longer focal lengths, in order for the background to gradually close in on the characters. A very good technique I must point out.
Another thing that made this film an interesting addition to the courtroom dramas is we don’t know much about the case, only through secondhand evidence do we piece together what is going on. All we know is that a Spanish-American boy is accused of murdering his father. Other than a very bored-looking judge who assumes he knows the outcome of the case, we learn the case through the eyes of twelve jurors. In most courtroom movies, it’s clear they like to come to a final verdict. This movie is very different because we don’t know whether the boy is guilty or not, although we can assume based off the events of the movie. The movie is all about reasonable evidence, a very important study in criminal justice. Through the evidence depicted in the case, did the boy commit the murder or not?
In the first few minutes in the jury room, it’s clear that the majority of the jurors believe he is guilty. However, there must be an unanimous vote before they can issue their decision. The problem is that one juror, Juror #8 believes the boy is not guilty. This is where all the fun begins. The film is based on emotion, logic, and even prejudice to describe what is going on. This particular juror does not sway from his opinion, even though the other jurors are growing more angry, more restless. But as Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) describes why he believes the boy is not guilty, and he presents an admirable case why, people begin to agree with #8. There are a few arrogant jurors who refuse to move their votes for their own reasons. For example, Juror #10 (Ed Begley) is an extreme racist, as seen in a massive prejudiced rant in which the reaction of the other jurors proved to be one of the most powerful scenes of the movie. Then there is Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb), who is just a very angry man in general and he gradually becomes angrier as more people side with #8. Then there is Juror #4 (E.G Marshall), a man with wire-rimmed glasses who tries to avoid emotion in this thinking with only the use of logic. I think it was a wise movie not to give the character names. It makes each character much more powerful. I could actually remember the juror by their numbers, That’s a testament for how great and unique each character is.
In the 95 minutes the film runs, we become invested in each character very much so. Whether he is a racist bigot or whether he is a man who simply believes in what is right, we truly sympathize with them all. That is what you can attribute to a wonderful cast. It’s interesting, because there was only one bankable star here (at the time), and that was Henry Fonda who played Juror #8 very well. He presented his case as believable as he can be. The rest of the cast were some of the best actors of New York City at the time, such as Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Joseph Sweeney, Jack Klugman, E.G Marshall, John Fiedler, Edward Binns, Robert Webber, and George Voskovec. They all perform very well in their roles. They need to be angry, and they certainly did get angry.
Sidney Lumet is one of the best and influential American directors of all time. This was is first feature film, and he knocks it out of the park from the very first scene. In each film he does, he always has something to say-usually something controversial. Not so much in this film, but in subsequent films. He does talk about how emotions can cloud the thinking of people, and cause them to think and act irrationally. As some of the conversations and rants in this film will point out.
12 Angry Men, based off a television play, ended up being one of the greatest courtroom dramas ever made. It came out at a time where lavish productions were aplenty. Despite the critical acclaim of this film, the movie actually wasn’t a box-office hit when it originally opened. But enough people have seen this over the years and to see how great this film is. It spends 92 minutes in a room filled with a table and twelve men, and somehow we get incredibly tense moments that added up to be a very powerful, influential film.
My Grade: A