Directed by : Sidney Lumet
Written by : Reginald Rose
Starring : Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb and Martin Balsam
For a director who cut his teeth on television it is no surprise that Lumet chose this movie, adapted from a teleplay, as his debut. The writer Rose was also a seasoned television writer and the film, almost entirely set in one room, has the feel of television drama or a theatrical piece. The liberal intent of the director (and producer/star Fonda) is as evident here as it would be throughout a prolific and consistently brilliant career. Also notable as an actor’s director and keen advocate of exhaustive rehearsal, both of which are manifest here.
The scene is set when twelve men sit down in a sweltering jury room to deliberate on the apparently cut and dried case of a Hispanic kid charged with the killing of his own father. Only one juror (Fonda) demurs and dares to invite the disdain of his peers most of whom wish, for their own conscious and unconscious reasons, for a quick verdict. It is clear from the outset that a few outspoken jurors wish to bully the others with bombastic argument much as they are used to doing in wider society in general.
These range from a racist to a father estranged from his own son and even to an ordinary joe who just happens to have two tickets for that night’s action at Madison Square Garden. From there much debate and many arguments take place and piece by piece many bits of heretofore cast iron evidence are, if not torn asunder at least are robustly challenged. As more and more reasonable doubts are raised in the minds of the jurors the majority switch their verdicts until just a few core jurors remain unswayable.
The real dynamic of the movie is not the court case (based on a flighty and unlikely trial anyway), which of itself would not stand up to the test of time and repeated viewing that this film invites, but the social interaction of this cross-section of humanity.. The real action is the social and psychological jostling between the jurors and how the less confident and lower strata (be it class, economic, immigrant or age) begin to assert themselves and expose the frailties and prejudices of their supposed superiors.
The lesser characters reveal themselves gradually not by trite exposition or grandstanding but by mostly seemingly throwaway lines or asides that are nevertheless trenchant This would not work without the assistance of a wonderful group of actors and testament to their craft and that of the screenwriter is the fact that by the end of the movie we know all we need to know about them and no more.
The tension much as the sweltering temperature is turned up by impressive camera work and lighting with the camera increasing focus and the lighting becoming more intense as the film progresses. The height of the camera also drops in that at the beginning we see the drama from just above the jurors heads whereas by the end we are looking upward into their sweating faces.
Above all Twelve Angry Men has that component which was so prevalent in all subsequent Lumet movies (Prince of the City, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, etc.,) that is realism; at no time do we not see that these are real people reacting in authentic situations. O.k. maybe The Wiz was an exception and Murder on the Orient Express too but you get my drift! What is your experience about this movie. Share your thoughts in comments.
MoviesCrunch Rating – 9/10