Monday, March 21, 2011

315. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Running Time: 96 minutes
Directed By: Sidney Lumet
Written By: Reginald Rose
Main Cast: Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber

Note: I wanted to let everyone know that I have started up a new blog, where I will be doing some DVD reviews. All of the information of the motives of the blog and what I plan to accomplish can be found in the introductory post at Just ADD('s) DVD Reviews. Please become a follower, as I would certainly appreciate it. Thank you.


In my previous review for "Whisky Galore!" I noted that I needed something stellar to come along and save me from the slump that I had apparently fallen into. With the assistance of my DVD shelf, I was able to produce one of the most stellar films I have ever witnessed and every single time I see it, it's as if I'm seeing it again for the very first time. Of course, I'm talking about the film at hand, "12 Angry Men".

The twelve nameless men that make up a jury on a murder trial are sent into a room and told that they will be determining whether or not an eighteen year old boy murdered his father. They are told that the mandated sentence that will be carried out, if they choose to find the defendant guilty, will be death - and just like that "12 Angry Men", possibly one of the greatest films ever made, begins. Once inside the hot, stuffy jury room, the men take their seats, after some chit chatting and opening windows to try and let in a little cool air. They sit around the table in order of jury number and take a preliminary vote to see where everyone stands - guilty or not guilty. One man, Juror #8 (Fonda) stands alone in declaring that he has a reasonable doubt as to the boy's guilt. He is, of course, immediately under fire from the other men in the room, especially the hot headed Juror #3 (Cobb), the intelligent Juror #4 (Marshall) and crotchety, old-fashioned Juror #10 (Begley). He stands alone, stating that five minutes just doesn't seem enough time to decide the fate of a young boy and insists that they take at least an hour. Over the course of the hour, Juror #8 pleads his case, making it clear that he's not certain of the boy's innocence, only certain that his innocence is possible. That's your premise...

The words "possible spoiler alert" are not necessary here, because in my view there are much more important things about "12 Angry Men" other than whether or not the twelve men ultimately find the boy guilty or innocent. I won't spoil it, don't worry, but their are plenty of other factors that supersede that of the final outcome. For starters, the acting is here is, I'm sure, unlike anything you've ever seen. You've got twelve men laying their hearts out in a tiny room, letting it all out on the table and acting their hearts out. Lee J. Cobb and Henry Fonda are the best, but why quibble over who's best and who's not? Everyone has their spot, everyone knows their spot and everyone plays their spot to perfection.

But even acting, as stellar as it is, isn't the thing that I love about "12 Angry Men", although it certainly helps. The thing I love about "12 Angry Men" is going to be hard for me to put into words, but I'll try and hopefully I'll do this amazing film justice. This film makes me wonder how many real court cases in history have lacked a "Juror #8", who wasn't afraid to stand up for the accused and raise his hand alone when the Jury Foreman asked the question, "Who votes for not guilty?" I wonder how many wanted to be that "Juror #8" and had that reasonable doubt, but when they saw that they would be standing alone, they jolted their hand into the air and sent a possibly innocent man off to die. I'd like to think that if I were a juror on a murder trial and I happened to be that one lone man with that inkling of a reasonable doubt, that I'd take the queue from Henry Fonda's character and raise my hand alone and try to sway the decisions of eleven made up minds.

The passion that these twelve actors are able to evoke is uncanny. Whoever decided to give the script that one little twist of having it take place in the middle of the summer, in a hot room, was a genius. The entire movie gives off a heated, claustrophobic feeling as we slowly get used to the surrounding of the room and when the door finally opens at the end, I myself could almost feel a gush of cool air slap me in the face, as I was finally out of that room, with those twelve angry strangers, who argued and screamed at one another. I love the character study that comes along with "12 Angry Men" and how each individual man in the room has their own distinct personality. I can't help when I'm watching this film but wonder about the backgrounds of these characters and I know it seems silly because it's irrelevant, but I start to picture Juror #7 at that baseball game that he was trying to get to and knowing because I've seen the film so many times, that he never gets to it. I, for some reason, picture Juror #3 and wonder what he's like when he's not being called a "sadist" and trying to convince people that the boy who lives in the slums is a murderer. I feel like I literally know someone who mimics the personalities of every single juror sitting around that table. I'm sure sometime in my life I've come across a man just like Juror #10. Someone who had their opinions pre-formed and nothing (almost nothing) was going to ever change their minds. They were stubborn and they had a certain way of looking at things and that's just the way they were. I feel like I knew a man like Juror #12, someone who was a deep down smart guy, but acted a little foolish from time to time and sometimes got mixed in with the wrong crowd. And if I haven't already, I hope someday I come across a man just like Juror #8, a man willing to help his fellow man and not afraid to stand up for what he truly believes is right. A man who stands his ground and argues for what he believes and isn't afraid to break the rules (or the law) to lend a helping hand.

With the combination of "The Wrong Man", "The Ox-Bow Incident" and most notably "12 Angry Men" you could almost make a makeshift trilogy of films chronicling the silver screens statue of justice and innocence, Henry Fonda. On the surface "12 Angry Men" is simple. Put twelve men in a room and let them decide the fate of a young boy, innocent or guilty. But when you do a little digging it's deeper than that. It's about personal prejudices and issues. It's about fantastic acting and fantastic characters. It's about pivotal, meaningful, intricate movie making. Every single time the camera zooms in on the face of one of our jurors, it means something. When we zoom in on Lee J. Cobb's face about halfway through the film, his facials almost seem to indicate that he knows Juror #8 is right and that he's going to keep on fighting because 1) he doesn't want to admit that he's been wrong the whole time - and not only does he not want to, he's too proud to do so and 2) he needs this kid to go to the electric chair because he was involved in this case and if he can control this kid's fate then maybe, just maybe it will give him the illusion that he was able to control his own kid's fate. Everything means something and perhaps the most meaningful act and the one that brought me to tears this time around, was when Juror #8 takes Juror #3 his coat at the end of the film, as if to say, "I feel sorry for you, I'm sorry I had to break you and I forgive you."

RATING: 10/10 Did you even have to ask what my rating was? Ok, ok so you didn't actually ask, but "12 Angry Men" is a definite '10' and going to be nearly impossible to topple for top spot of the next TOP 20.


March 20, 2011 9:45pm

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