Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1957, Sidney Lumet released 12 Angry Men, adapted from a 1954 teleplay of the same name. Starring Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber, the film grossed $1 million at the box office. Nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay, the film won the Golden Bear Award at the 7th Berlin International Film Festival and placed #88 on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 Thrilling Films as well as #2 on its list of Top 10 Courtroom Dramas.
When a group of jurors retire to decide the outcome of what seems to be a relatively straightforward murder trial, an eyewitness, forensic evidence and the accused seemingly pointing to an adolescent boy murdering his father. However, while they are deliberating, most of the jurors push for a quick guilty verdict, with one holding out and demanding to thoroughly examine the evidence.
Quite memorable and interesting to watch, 12 Angry Men is a great film that really keeps the viewer sucked in. In and of itself, the basic story is incredibly simplistic, with practically the entire film, except for the very beginning and end taking place in one room. However, the film makes great use of that minimalism by continuing to ramp up the tension between those who become convinced of the accused’s innocence and those still holding on to a guilty verdict. Tensions are high and they are that way throughout the film because none of the jurors are able to go anywhere. What’s really notable is how Juror 8 is able to start off as the only one who remains unconvinced of the accused’s guilt while slowly making it so that all the other jurors become unconvinced as well. The film also pulls something very fascinating at the end, when Jurors 8 and 9 exchange their names. It wonderfully makes the viewer aware that they spend the entire film watching a group of people decide a person’s fate and not once did the viewer know any of their names. What’s more is the film is so captivating that it doesn’t matter either.
When it comes down to it, Juror 8 is the most interesting character within the film, mainly because he stands firm in his decision to not make a guilty verdict until he’s able to comb through all of the evidence presented in the courtroom so he can make an informed decision. From the outset, the film shows that he’s going to be very different from all the other characters. When the film first shows him, Juror 8 is looking out the window of the jury room before the other jurors call him over to begin the deliberation. Prior to this, all the other jurors were seen chatting and speaking with each other. In showing that he’s alone and thinking while looking out the window and being the only person to do so, the film is able to demonstrate that he’s not going to make a rash decision and wants to completely think everything through to make sure that his choice is made beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, it’s that insistence on going through all the evidence that brings everyone around to his side.
The film does very well in giving all the jurors very unique personalities, rather than just making Juror 8 the only one with notable characterization. Their personalities don’t mesh very well with each other, but that works as that’s the way it would be in real life. Further, having their own personalities and outlooks make it so that they all come to doubt the accused’s guilt in different and unique ways. Take Juror 4 as an example. He’s one of the final holdouts to be convinced that the accused is not guilty and actually states that all of Juror 8’s points make sense but can’t get around the supposed eyewitness of the case and it’s not until Juror 4 states that the eyewitness had indentations on her nose from eyeglasses, making it so that she couldn’t see well because they were off during the murder, does he realize that the supposed evidence against the accused is faulty. There’s also the final person to switch their vote, Juror 3, who continued to push for a guilty verdict all the way to the end because of his soured relationship with his son. It’s not until the very end that the man realizes that he’s not paying attention to the evidence that points to the accused’s innocence because his judgment is being clouded by the anger surrounding what happened between him and his son.
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Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on May 15, 2016:
Lumet had a way of taking an ordinary story and adding a twist to it, and I'm glad he had such a long career behind the camera.