12 Angry Men (1957)


12 Angry Men

Genre: Mystery Drama

Starring: Henry Fonda (The Grapes Of Wrath  Once Upon a Time in the West), Lee J. Cobb (The Exorcist On the Waterfront)

Directed By: Sidney Lumet (Serpico Dog Day Afternoon)

Overview: In the sweltering heat of the jury chamber, twelve men cast a vote to decide if a young man accused of killing his father is guilty or not. One juror votes not guilty, adding "I don't want to change your mind. I just want to talk for a while." This is the story of the debate had by those twelve angry men.

12 Angry Men is the kind of film, the kind of milestone yardstick film, that every cinephile eventually visits, or so I'd hope. 12 Angry Men strips the celluloid down to its basics, removing the thrill of action, sexy ladies and the flash of special effects and shines through on its own merit - an exquisite story told with uncommonly absorbing pathos. Here we are in 2011, surrounded by the age of IMAX-3D-CG-HD and 7.1 Surround Sound, and Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men screenplay bites its thumb at us, a reminder of what's really important in cinema. Seeing it firmly planted at #7 on IMDb's Top 250 list is indeed a nice confirmation of that fact.

Fonda may get top billing but Cobb's the man you'll love to hate.
Fonda may get top billing but Cobb's the man you'll love to hate.

12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama 'after the fact'. After a brief moment in the courtroom, our characters' dozen retires into a small room to deliberate. This is where the lion's share of the film takes place, in a stifling small room, made smaller by the large-than-life talent of Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley... I'll refrain from naming them all. The case: a young man is accused of murdering his father. Twelve people who know nothing more about the boy that what they've seen and heard for the last six days cast a vote to decide if he will get the electric chair. Eleven for guilty, one for not guilty.

Juror #7: So what'd you vote not guilty for?
Juror #8: There were eleven votes for guilty. It's not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.

What makes this film different from other courtroom dramas is how the case is discussed entirely outside of the courtroom. There's no scenes where lawyers dramatically turn, yell and point a damning finger, holding aloft a new piece of surprise secret evidence, no scene where a traumatized victim breaks down crying, whispering the name of the person in the defendant's chair. But there is drama, tremendous drama that comes from the originality of the jury room setting, a dozen men whose own lives and prejudices seep through the case so completely that we learn how little facts play in making our decisions. 12 Angry Men is a beautiful interplay of humanity's faults and strengths, a film on par with To Kill A Mockingbird or The Shawshank Redemption for a study of man's take on contemporary justice, perhaps even a film that trumps them both.

Look, you know how those people lie... They don't know what the truth is... they get drunk, and bang, someone's lying in the gutter. Nobody's blaming them. That's how they are... Human life don't mean as much to them as it does to us. Look, these people are drinking and fighting all the time, and if somebody gets killed, so somebody gets killed. They don't care. I've known a few who were pretty decent, but that's the exception. Most of them; it's like they have no feelings. They can do anything. - Juror #10

I said earlier that 12 Angry Men is the kind of film that every cinephile eventually visits. For me, watching 12 Angry Men, well, it's like coming home.

 The image that accompanies Juror #10's speech...
The image that accompanies Juror #10's speech...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 7 Script: 9 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 84% (Judge It For Yourself)

I don't collect film. I dare not go down that slippery slope of owning a wall of movies. I rent and return. When on sale, I buy, watch and resell. I love garage sales, especially the massive annual 10-block-square one my city has. My small movie collection is more a distillation of what I absolutely need, what I KNOW I will re-watch several times throughout my life. The one's I'm proudest to have seen. When I finished watching my copy of 12 Angry Men, I put it back on the shelf where it belongs, the first in my collection, leaned upon by 28 Days Later and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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