Film when it was first conceived, much of the work produced had a theatrical quality. The Camera was fixed to one position, the actors acted at the camera, mugging and waving arms in what would be considered to be ludicrous by today’s standard of movie making. This was be expected however, whether down to technology or some other factors, film was liked heavily with theatre due to its similarities. Though through the experimentation of master craftsman like D.W.Griffith cinema developed its own niche and language that sets it apart from theatre. However it is nice to have a film that feels like a play, it gives you time to slow down, enjoy the story, the performances and pay attention to every single detail. 12 Angry Men released in 1957 directed by Sidney Lumet, staring Henry Fonda based on the teleplay and stage play written by Reginald Rose is one such gem.
The film has a very simple plot. After hearing a murder case involving a young boy allegedly killing his father, 12 jurors walk into a room to pass their verdict. In the initial vote 11 jurors vote guilty, meaning that the young defendant would be executed, while 1, Juror 8 (played by Henry Fonda), votes not guilty due to the reasonable doubt he has about the case. It is then a matter of discussion as the split jury try to convince Juror 8 that the man they could send to his death is guilty of killing a man. While Juror 8 seeks to prove that there is doubt in the case.
The film is a masterclass in simplicity, with 12 characters, one location and a set time limit. However despite these limited circumstances the film shines. The camera work doesn’t get in the way of the story, which is well paced. Each new detail about the case is revealed, reviewed, revaluated naturally, and the film takes its time to take in everybody’s reactions, despite the short run time. The film feels like a natural occurring discussion that progresses in a logical and satisfying manner, and by the time the film is done you will be agreeing with Juror 8 and shouting at the head strong Juror 3 and the bigoted Juror 10.
Actually where the films true strength lies, is in the characters. Henry Fonda provides the moral centre of the film as methodical Juror 8. Personally I could watch Fonda all day, he has a cool confidence that is just so pleasing to watch especially in dialogue heavy court room dramas like this. However it is not just Juror 8 that is remarkable detailed, but all of the jurors have their own characters and motivations. Even the “bad guys” have hidden motivations and hints at a wider life than just the court room especially Lee J. Cobb as Juror 3, who is angry, loud mouthed and disrespectful, but at the end, when his character reaches the climax of his arch, the emotional breakdown, though short speaks volumes to the character. Similarly Juror 4 who is one of the last to change his mind is a testament to the remarkable performance of E.G. Marshall. What could have come off as cold and unfeeling due to his world view, was treated with respect and complexity.
The film itself deals with issues that I (as a Middle Class Englishman) think that are still important in American and Global society. It is about responsibility and the justice system and it also asks questions that need to be asked. Is it right for 12 people to decide the fate of an individual that they just met? How do you remove personal bias from that judgement? What is reasonable doubt? Is it right to put someone to death? These are all issues that need to be addressed, they are important things to bear in mind.
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