This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon.
With the Classic Film Day Blogathon underway I got to thinking about which classic film is my favourite. Every time I thought about it my mind always went back to one film, 12 Angry Men. Everything I love in film is present here and the film has just been given new relevance from the Amy Schumer episode parodying it so there is no better time for me to review it.
The plot revolves around the deliberations by the jury in a case involving a young hispanic man accused of murdering his father. Whilst 11 of the 12 jurors feel the boy is guilty, one of them feels that they shouldn’t rush into a decision and the jurors start going over all of the evidence to determine whether or not they feel the kid is guilty. The main thing I love about this film is that we never find out whether the kid is guilty or not. It’s up to the audience to determine it for themselves and you fully understand why the jurors initially voted to convict the kid, the initial evidence did seem to line up with conviction. Furthermore, the stuff brought up over the course of the film to show the kid may not have committed the crime is based on just as much conjecture as the case to prosecute him, it’s the doubt over whether or not the facts line up that’s important, not the facts themselves. The characters all being anonymous meanwhile gives the sense that this could happen in any courtroom and this is just one of the many cases like this that occur each day. Even with the very brief introductions before the plot gets rolling all of the jurors have their own distinct identity and their own prejudices that inform their decisions, with jurors 3 and 10 showing the most prejudice. As these prejudices come to the forefront as the film goes on, you note how the emotional state of the jurors is just as important as the evidence, especially with juror 3 who, despite having all the evidence against the boy discredited still wants to convict the boy, transferring the anger he has towards his son towards the boy. This is also clear through some of the jurors, mainly juror 10, projecting their own racist attitudes towards the case, with the film making it abundantly clear that these values are not acceptable, especially when juror 10 goes on his racist tirade and all of the jurors except juror 4 turn away from him, with juror 4 telling him to not speak again after the rant ended, and juror 10 complies.
These all show how the facts in a case invariably get lost and emotion takes over, with only one of the jurors using logic, his character being a calm and somewhat cold stock broker. It also shows the inherent selfishness of people, concerned about their own interests over the needs of others, with juror 7 only changing his vote to end the deliberations so he can watch a baseball game and some of the jurors playing a game of noughts and crosses whilst the deliberations are going on. These things piece together a pretty bleak view of the world but jurors 8 and 9 help show the inherent optimism in the world, the need to see the good in people. I also see the film as a bit of a condemnation of traditional masculine values with juror 3 and his relationship with his son. The idea that forcing someone to grow up into a fighter took away any good juror 3 had with his son and, as I read it, draws a parallel with the kid accused of murder and how violence from the father begets more violence and those who are willing to take a calm, thoughtful approach are the ones who will ultimately be the more valuable in society.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Henry Fonda as juror 8 has this overall air of dignity and respectability and this, along with a clear sense of intelligence, lets you know that this is a man that deserves to be trusted. He also does a great job showing some degree of doubt over whether or not the boy is guilty or not. This sense of respectability is also seen in Joseph Sweeney as juror 9. Lee J Cobb and Ed Begley as jurors 3 and 10 respectively show their own prejudices well and their breakdown rants near the end of the film are some of the best pieces of acting in the film. Jack Klugman and George Voskovec meanwhile helps show why these prejudices are wrong, being really thoughtful and calm throughout the proceedings, with Voskovec’s speech on the virtues of the justice system being one of the highlights of the film. Meanwhile, Martin Balsam is great showing how inexperienced and out of his depth the foreman is, John Fielder does great work showing his courage increase as the film goes on, E.G Marshall’s cool demeanor fits his character perfectly, Jack Warden is great showing his indifference to the whole thing, having a quite sleazy nature that fits with him being a salesman. Robert Webber meanwhile brilliantly shows the indecisiveness of juror 12, with his changing moods feeling incredibly natural and Edward Binns shows his principles and toughness throughout the proceedings really well.
The direction and cinematography meanwhile are excellent. At the start of the film, when there’s more of an informal atmosphere the camera is pulled back, we can see the entire room and everyone in it. As the film goes on the camera goes closer and closer to the action and this, combined with the shots showing the heavy amounts of sweat on each actor, give this incredibly claustrophobic atmosphere to the film. We feel like we’re in the room with the jurors and it’s a real credit to Sidney Lumet and Boris Kaufman that they made a film about 12 people in a room talking and made it an incredible cinematic experience.
Overall, 12 Angry Men is an incredible cinematic experience. Sidney Lumet, writer Reginal Rose and DP Boris Kaufman take a story of 12 men in a room talking and make it into a tense, engaging, emotionally charged film exploring the different attitudes people have whilst members of a jury. The prejudices each of the jurors bring, how they let their emotions cloud their judgements, these are all presented perfectly with the strength of the cast and the script selling every decision made. This is easily one of the greatest films ever made.
My Rating: 5/5