12 ANGRY MEN, 1957
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Martin Balsam, John Fieldler, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Ed Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, George Voskovec, Robert Webber
Review by Christopher Almeida
A dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court.
OSCAR nominee for Best Director, Best Picture, Best Screenplay
‘All rise…the court is in session…’ Well, actually, it isn’t. The real drama in this Court Room happens in the Jury room. 12 Jurors have to come to an anonymous vote. While everyone votes guilty, our male protagonist, Juror 11, isn’t quite so sure. This case has to be treated delicately – after all, the defendant has the death penalty for murder.
The hero comes in the form of Henry Fonda. The star has appeared in 106 films. The most famous are 12 Angry Men, The Grapes of Wrath and On Golden Pond.
The director comes in the form of Sidney Lumet, who has made the transfer from television to film. However, don’t let that discourage you- judging by this film, he has done it successfully. Lumet churns the issues around the room using character and innuendos and as a result raises the stakes at a steady pace. For further evidence- it won him the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film also won three Oscar nominations.
Lumet’s transfer from one Medium to another may explain the number of close-ups. This isn’t bad thing at all – it does create a nice intense, powerful atmosphere. The close-up shots come in handy when searching for empathy. Lumet gives close-ups to every other character except for the hero at the start of the film. It is almost to the effect that we are examining the evidence and, indeed, the other jurors. This creates the most empathy because we don’t know how it’s going to end and neither does Henry Fonda.
Most heroes, in films, are sure of their objective half an hour into a film, this hero is unsure throughout.
At this point you must be thinking what is Henry Fonda’s character name? This is first thing that separates it from other films. We don’t learn any of the character’s names. The film concentrates on hero and his journey. Not a single line is wasted; all the characters are sculpted using actors from the highest caliber. Another distinction is the cinematography. Which mainstream film uses more close-ups than long shots? Yeah, I heard you- except for The Blair Witch Project! The film together with Rose’s screenplay is a masterpiece.
Reginald Rose’s screenplay is very well crafted. Themes of stereotyping, second chances and ageism are perfect ingredients for the story’s substance. A nice cool beer on a hot day and sitting in your deck chair is the only description I have for the story’s substance without using a clinched word such as refreshing. The themes are well placed- two words- pitch perfect!
The only flaws here is that it relies on stereotypical characters to create predictable sub-issues; Sub-issues such as young, naïve boy and angry man. However, Lee.J. Cobbs does such a powerhouse performance that the flaw blows right over your head.
Target audience? It is for anyone who wants to think afterwards ‘Hmm…Now that was worth seeing!’ But seriously though, the ideal target audience is for 20- to however mature you may be.
Twelve Angry Men requires concentrated viewing but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. The dips into and out of story using light humour gives it a nice balance.