Directed By Sidney Lumet
Starring Henry Fonda, Lee J Cobb and Martin Balsam
I’m not really going out on a limb when I say that 12 Angry Men is great movie. It’s an important film that has held up beautifully over the last 50 years. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it soon. I’m truly sad that it has taken me this long to watch it and I can honestly say it is one of the best films I have ever seen. Endorsements like that are often thrown around so I’m fully aware of how little it can mean to proclaim a movie “the best movie.” Earlier today I saw someone on twitter say that “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the best movie since Godzilla, Oscar worthy.” So, I get it, not the best way to start a review but trust me there is a really good reason why this film is so highly regarded.
12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama where almost the entire film plays out in the jury room. Performance is the focus of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 masterpiece. The film is shot in black and white, the sets are minimal (a room, a table, 12 chairs) and the camera work is subtle. Nothing about the design of this film calls attention to itself. We are only given our characters words and reactions. Considering the gravity of this films subject matter I’m grateful we are allowed to take in the film without any stylistic distractions. Henry Fonda who is the lone voice of descent gives a performance that easily stands up to the Oscar winning performance he gave in Grapes of Wrath.
The plot of the film is very straight forward. A jury deliberates over a capital murder case. It’s clear when the judge is giving the jury its instructions this is an open and shut case. When the jury enters the room the atmosphere is light and somewhat jovial but that quickly changes when the jury takes its first vote.
This film never tells us if the accused is innocent or guilty, it is beside the point. 12 Angry Men is an examination of the American justice system and it plays just as relevant today as it did 50 years ago. With recent events in Oklahoma I hope Americans will take a long sober non-reactionary look at our justice system and capital punishment. Sadly, I have little faith that we will make any drastic changes. I do hope the next time 12 “peers” of an accused step into the court room of a capital murder trial they will have seen this film and understand the magnitude of what they are about to do.
12 Angry Men is currently streaming on Netflix