His fate is in the hands of 12 Angry Men!
Today I will be reviewing an all-time favorite of mine. 12 Angry Men depicts the deliberations of 12 jurors as they deliberate over a first degree murder trial. A young man is accused of the brutal stabbing murder of his own father. At first all of the jurors vote for conviction except one, Juror number 8 (Henry Fonda). At first even he thinks the kid might be guilty, but he just doesn’t want to vote for a death sentence without thinking over the case and the evidence. The other jurors aren’t particularly happy about this, several making that loudly known. But as they go over the evidence, inconsistencies start to add up and they begin to realize that there might actually be something more important at stake than missed baseball games and cold dinners.
12 Angry Men is a drama where a man’s life hangs in the balance and his fate is decided by 12 strangers who never actually leave a small meeting room for the entirety of the movie. No one is killed or injured, there are no car chases, the only showdowns are verbal. We never actually see the accused inmate and we only see brief glimpses of anyone besides the jurors and we don’t even know most of their names. Yet the movie weaves a spell over its audience and leaves you absolutely spellbound through to the end.
A standout is the great Henry Fonda playing his favorite role, an everyman just asking questions.
The rest of the jury pool is filled with veteran character actors such as John Fiedler, Ed Begley and Martin Balsam. All of the men bring their own personalities and prejudices. A few we see right away, a bullying type, a stockbroker who just wants it to be over, a former street tough. We the viewers know none of these people going into the movie, but their stories and their personalities unfold naturally and they come to vivid life. The conflicts that unfold in the film are true to the personalities and character traits of these men. All of them saw the same evidence, but their life experiences and internal prejudices cause them to interpret it in vastly different ways.
Director Sidney Lumet makes effective use of optical effects such as when the jury first exits the courtroom. A shot of the nervous defendant slowly dissolves into the jury room. The camera follows the men as they debate the case and makes you feel like you’re in the room with them.
The soundtrack is both rich and spartan. For the most part, there is no background music, just a few mournful chords played at key points in the film. Instead we hear a rich range of sounds in the jury room and the surrounding streets. Cars passing by, the rustle of papers, even the men shifting in their seats. Most important is the wonderfully natural, overlapping dialog. The conversations ebb and flow organically as the film progresses.
In my opinion, this film should be required viewing in high school social studies class. A beautifully shot portrayal of one of the most important but most misunderstood of our civic duties.
Verdict: 4.5 Gavels out of 5
Gripping cinema, one of the few absolute “must see” films in my list.