12 Angry Men (1957)
Basic murder case. Troubled kid. Murdered father. Easy math. He was labeled guilty before the trial ever started. That’s what the jury thought also, until Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) voiced his opinion. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Well, there were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”
A man’s life is important enough for some time and consideration. It’s not that Juror #8 is some saint or savior but just that he has the humanity to take his role seriously. “I’m not saying he’s innocent, I’m saying it’s possible.” From the very beginning there was apathy. Take the judge: “Premeditated murder is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts… …The death sentence is mandatory in this case…” He speaks with a yawn in his throat. I remember thinking, is this for real? Then, when #8 suggests, “let’s talk about it, give him an hour at least.” “Sure, we can do that.” everybody says, and they begin “stalling” time so they can at least say they considered “for an hour.” Don’t they get it?
My favorite is Juror #4 (E.G. Marshall). Unlike most of the others, he intelligently processed the details and carefully thought through the situation to come to the conclusion that he was guilty. He wasn’t motivated by baseball tickets, animosity, prejudice, indifference, fatigue, or a stuffy room. He calmly presented his reasons and argued his point in a civilized manner.
Then, of course, there’s Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb). He’s the “Yeah, what he said!” man of the bunch. It’s going to take some tough prodding to convince him. Man, what excellent acting though.
Have you ever witnessed an argument amongst friends or colleagues and just plain enjoyed it? Whether friendly or not, arguing can be very amusing and entertaining. You wish, “Gee, why can’t I think that quick?” This movie is for you. Essentially, it’s nothing but a bunch of old men arguing. There are plenty of satisfactory shutdowns e.g. “I beg pardon…” “‘I beg pardon?’ What are you so polite about?” “For the same reason you aren’t. It’s the way I was brought up.” or “Anyone in his right mind would blow his stack. He was just trying to bait me…” “He did an excellent job.” The dialogue is the best part. “You keep coming up with these great sayings! Why don’t you send ’em in to a paper – they pay three dollars apiece!” Okay, I’m done quoting now.
There are four scenes in 12 Angry Men: Outside the courthouse, the courtroom, the jury room, and the wash room. That’s it. And the first two hardly count. It isn’t easy to pull off a full length feature film in one room but this doesn’t miss a beat. You can feel their sweat, you sense their rising tempers and their growing fatigue. The claustrophia settles in on the audience themselves. I give Sidney Lumet a big gold star for directing, he knew how to set a mood.
This movie has aged well and remains influential to modern-day filmmaking. Like I said, watch this if you enjoy a good debate. 9/10