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The Verdict is In. The Movie is a Classic

  • Jan 2, 2009
Pros: Just about everything

Cons: Is a fairy tale in the end

The Bottom Line: They really don't base a lot of movies on plays anymore, do they?

Usually when a writer declines to name certain characters, it means the character is faceless. He may or may not be insignificant, but you unquestionably will not be getting to know the guy. 12 Angry Men turns this formula upside-down by giving us twelve jurors who are given the ultimate fate of an accused murderer. But instead of giving us names to keep track of, 12 Angry Men merely gives us numbers. We are given the names of only two jurors, and they aren't introduced until the last frame of the movie. This anonymity makes the whole scene more believable because it convinces us that these twelve very well-defined characters really are strangers. Although we get to know their attitudes toward the case and even learn a little about how intelligent they are, we don't get to see why they have the attitudes they do. These twelve men are written into a real-life conversation.

The story is timeless. Twelve jurors deliberate on the guilt of a young man accused of murder. Eleven of them are convinced the kid is guilty. But the eighth juror sees enough holes in the case to enter a not guilty plea. He stands alone as he tries to sway the other jurors into seeing why his doubt is reasonable. Screenplay writer Reginald Rose is very careful treading across juror 8's motives. We are told repeatedly that juror 8 isn't necessarily convinced that the kid isn't guilty. But he is convinced that there are too many holes in the case for it to be the 100 percent bulletproof reason he needs to enter the guilty plea. Juror 8 knows the kid is going to fry if he's convicted and doesn't want blood on his hands if the defendant is actually innocent.

His staunchest opposition comes in the form of a pair of bigots, jurors 10 and 3, who have the attitude that someone, anyone has to be punished. Throughout the movie, they try to sway the other jurors into their line of thinking through screaming and appeals to irrational fear. But every time, that observant eighth juror proves to be unshakable in his conviction. Through acute observation, steely logic, and his unwavering belief that he's doing the right thing, the other jurors slowly come around. Henry Fonda plays juror number 8 with a calm sense of confidence. Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley respectively portray jurors number 3 and 10. Fonda turns in one of his finest performances. I'm not familiar with any actor in 12 Angry Men except him, and the other two memorable actors are Cobb and Begley. Both seem to turn on their shouty fight modes which actors use for scenes like this, but their breakdowns are simply mesmorizing.

While the other jurors are there more for support than anything else, they are far from being merely background noise. Each and every one, despite being underdeveloped, is able to give you a sense of what's motivating him. One juror has tickets to a baseball game and just wants to head out. Another is old and enters the second not guilty plea just to support juror 8.

12 Angry Men is one of the most claustrophobic movies I've ever seen. It takes place entirely within a single deliberation room and in real time. As the movie goes on it gets to be more and more claustrophobic. Director Sidney Lumet captures the feeling of being trapped in a room by merit of his camera placements. As the movie picks up, the camera appears to get lower, and close-ups seem to become more prominent. A heat wave which the characters often refer to also helps a lot. It helps create a more real atmosphere and adds a dimension to the dialogue. One character is rounded out by the way he talks about getting out of court in time for a baseball game he has tickets to. 

The dialogue unfortunately has a few problems with it too. 12 Angry Men, for all its realism, is still a fairy tale. Sometimes the characters go on polished extended tangents. The most egregious example of this is the old man juror talking about putting himself in the shoes of an equally old witness. A close second is the example of one of the bigots talking about "those people" complete with the whole room literally turning their backs on him. Indentations from eyeglasses and a knife which juror number 8 just happened to purchase the evening before the trial both serve as case props which the jurors use to make their case.

12 Angry Men was made in the 50's, at the dawn of the civil rights movement. So one would expect race to become a factor, with two bigots as characters already. But this really isn't the case. Instead of the two antagonists trying to keep those n-words in their place, they simply refer to the kid as "those people." And so the injustice in 12 Angry Man doesn't come from race, but class. The two jurors acting against Henry Fonda's juror number 8 see lower social classes as lower forms of life.  

Despite the fairy tale appearance, 12 Angry Men is a very well-written and well-directed and well-acted classic. If you've ever ben kicked around, it will make you have faith in the legal system for one brief shining moment.


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January 03, 2011
More 12 Angry Men reviews
review by . December 09, 2010
Stunning in it's simplicity.
It is the absolute antithesis of everything the Hollywood studios are releasing today.  There is no senseless violence, no special effects of any kind, practically no music and not a woman cannot be seen during the entire film.  Heck, "12 Angry Men" was a box office flop when it was first released back in 1957.  But to those who study and appreciate the fine art of movie-making "12 Angry Men" remains a shining example of how a motion picture should be crafted. …
review by . April 15, 2011
1 Satisfied Filmgoer
12 ANGRY MEN   Written by Reginald Rose   Directed by Sidney Lumet   Starring Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Jack Ward and Lee J. Cobb       Take twelve grown men and stick them in a room with no fans in the middle of a sweltering heat wave and you’re darn right, they’re going to get angry. Lock them in there while they debate an accused murderer’s guilt, potentially sending him to his own death, and that anger is bound to get …
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this movie


12 Angry Men is an American drama film released on April13, 1957 and produced by United Artists.  The film was directed by Sidney Lumet and was written by Reginald Rose. 12 Angry Men was produced by Henry Fonda along with Reginald Rose, andstarred Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall,Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Ed Binns, Jack Warden, JosephSweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber.

12 Angry Men is about a dissenting juror in a murder trial who slowly convinces othersthat the case is obviously not as clear as it seemed in court.  After its release, the film received 6 nominations, along with three nominations forAcademy Awards, and celebrated 13 variousawards wins.

It was given an MPAA rating of NR and runs 96 minutes.

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Director: Sidney Lumet
Genre: Drama
Release Date: January 1, 1957
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: March 4, 2008 (50th Anniversary Edition)
Runtime: 1hr 35min
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