12 Angry Men Review
By Christopher Null
Who would have thought that a movie which almost entirely takes place in one room, consists of 12 men who do nothing but talk -- and who don't even have names -- would be such a searing experience? 12 Angry Men is a classic, and an undisputed one at that, a film that is as inspiring as it is well-crafted behind the scenes.
The story is a simple one: 12 jurors are asked to decide the fate of a young man who is accused of killing his father. If guilty, he will be sentenced to the electric chair. Otherwise he goes free. The evidence is overwhelmingly against him: Two eyewitnesses, a murder weapon known to be bought by the killer, and an alibi that he couldn't remember during questioning. Open and shut, but one juror stands alone against the other 11, who'd like to get home in time for dinner. And with that single "not guilty" vote, Henry Fonda's Juror #8 sets off the titular anger.
First, the other 11 pile on him, then slowly they turn. #11 brings up questions about the evidence (is that knife so unique, really?). Re-enacts key events (could that old man have gotten to his door in 15 seconds?). Prods the other jurors into examining their own prejudices. Reasonable doubt? Could be... and one by one, the other 11 join #8. But with each vote that turns, the anger in the room becomes thicker and thicker as sides are chosen and lines are drawn in the sand.
In the 50 years since 12 Angry Men was made, it's become almost a cliche to hate jury duty. I'll do or say just about anything not to sit in a courtroom for a trial every time my number comes up. (A friend of mine simply throws away the summons when it shows up in the mail.) But 12 Angry Men offers a hopeful look at the American justice system; it's really one of the most patriotic drama/thrillers ever made. I'd suggest the movie ought to be shown in the waiting room whenever juries are being selected, but if that was the case virtually every criminal would probably get off scot free.
Sidney Lumet's technical work is unparalleled. The black and white cinematography is sharp and the direction and editing never miss a step, all despite the fact that the movie never wanders farther from the deliberation chamber than the men's room. The movie is one which bears repeated viewings well: It's every bit the classic it's been made out to be for all these years.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Monday 1st April 1957
Distributed by: Criterion Collection
Production compaines: Orion-Nova Productions
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Cast & Crew
Screenwriter: Reginald Rose
Starring: Henry Fonda as Juror 8, Lee J. Cobb as Juror 3, Ed Begley as Juror 10, E.G. Marshall as Juror 4, Jack Warden as Juror 7, Martin Balsam as Juror 1, John Fiedler as Juror 2, Jack Klugman as Juror 5, Edward Binns as Juror 6, Joseph Sweeney as Juror 9, George Voskovec as Juror 11, Robert Webber as Juror 12