Monday, May 24, 2010

12 Angry Men (1957)

Staring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley

Directed by Sidney Lumet

"12 Angry Men" is a film, based upon the teleplay of the same name, in which a juror tries to convince his colleagues that the case that they are assigned is not as clear-cut as it appears.

This is simply a classic. Nearly all of it takes place in the same jury room with the same twelve angry (and not so angry) men discussing one issue: the guilt or innocence of a boy charged with murder. The fact that this movie can still keep you so interested, and with only a bare minimal amount of emotional cues (i.e., music) is an achievement in itself. However, the real reason the directorial debut of the great Sidney Lumet (who as of this writing is still alive at age 85 and to my knowledge is still technically active) remains a cinematic jewel after all these years is because it makes you think, not just about the story, but about the meaning of a fair trial, the imperfections of the legal system, and other eternally relevant and important issues in a way that is both artful and powerful.

The cast is lead by Henry Fonda (one of my personal favorite actors), who is perfect as Juror Number 8, the man who is very calm and appears harmless, but holds a strong belief in the principle of equal protection under the law, despite enormous peer pressure from those who say he is fighting a losing battle, at least at first. I also like the main antagonist Juror Number 3, played by Lee J Cobb. I found it amusing how he would go on these rants before realizing that he has contradicted himself. Despite being very one-sided, however, he makes some valid arguments and he is later humanized when it becomes clear that his judgment is based on legitimate emotional stress rather than ignorance.

The rest of the cast is also very strong and they are all shown to have very distinct personalities instead of just mirroring the personalities of the leaders of the two opposing sides. Despite the fact that we learn a little about each of them, they are never mentioned by name while they are in the room, only by their jury numbers, which emphasis the point that it is the issue at hand, not their personal lives, that is at stake. Incidentally, one of my few problems with the movie occurs at the very end when two of the jurors mention their real names; I know they were pointing out that it was amusing fact that they spent so much time arguing with people whose names they did not even know, but I would rather have not known who they were. Still, that is a pretty small, almost worthless, complaint when considering the rest of this great film.

I strongly recommend it.