So 12 Angry Men is a film where I felt destiny played a part in me viewing it. I first got the urge to watch it when I was looking through the list of most rated films on IMDb to see which ones I missed, 12 Angry Men was ranked 5th and I wondered to myself why I have never encountered it before. Then, I kid you not, the day after I get the urge to watch it, a letter for jury duty arrives for me. I thought to myself “well I have to watch it now”.
12 Angry Men is about twelve jurors who are sitting on the trial of a young boy accused of murder. If found guilty, the boy will be sent to the electric chair. 11 out of the 12 jurors believe the boy is guilty but one juror (Henry Fonda) believes there is reasonable doubt in the evidence given and tries to convince the other jurors that maybe this is not an open and shut case.
12 Angry Men is one of the most compelling classic films I have ever seen. If your someone who likes to find discrepancies in films, I urge you to watch 12 Angry Men and find something wrong with it. Everything from the cinematography, dialogue, setting, even character staging has been purposefully and methodically thought to maximize the intensity of the situation, even if it’s in the tiniest details. We learn from one juror that it is the hottest day of the year and director Sidney Lumet understands how little things like that can change people’s behaviour and decision making. However, he hasn’t left out the bigger details and we learn throughout the film that some of the jurors may have their own agenda and reasons for wanting the boy to be sent to the chair.
This film takes place in one location, the jury room, making this a very claustrophobic film, but even with the restricted space, the cinematography is remarkable. There are shots in this film that are going to stick with you for a very long time, such as the knife reveal. I am walking into spoiler territory here so if you haven’t seen this film, I urge you to watch it before reading further. There is a scene involving a discrepancy in the knife used in the murder, an unusual knife in the eyes of the other jurors. When the jurors are convinced that another like it isn’t possible, Henry Fonda’s character stands up in the background with the knife in the foreground and pulls from his pocket a similar-looking knife. Cinematic universes take note, this is how you reveal a plot device.
Across the board, the performances in 12 Angry Men are astonishingly brilliant especially in Henry Fonda, but despite being one of the biggest stars at the time and certainly one of the most talented, you don’t feel as though he is carrying this film, every actor is brilliant in their own right. If I had to pick someone out as truly exceptional it would have to be the performance of Lee. J Cobb. His character is one of those jurors who has their own agenda as I previously mentioned and you begin to hate him because of his abrasive attitude, but you soon begin to realise that this is a damaged character and he brings his own personal issues into why he wants this boy to be sent to the chair.
There are scenes in this film that address these character’s agendas and personal prejudices directly. In once instance, one juror vents his frustration about the boy as being one of “those people”, and as he’s ranting, one by one the other jurors get up from their chairs and turn their back to ignore him. As they turn their back, the juror’s voice gets quieter and quieter until he is silent and pleading that the others listen to him. It’s not wrong to think that the lessons being taught in these scenes apply to issues we have today in our world.
So the film puts you through this very intense situation that could get out of hand with a snap of the fingers, you think you know who these people are and what kind of people they are, but at the very end of the film, Sidney Lumet reminds everyone that for the whole film, they never said their names. This realisation is an extra genius mic drop in a sea of genius moments. When you get to those moments where you realise that the discrepancies Henry Fonda has been pointing out are plausible, it is brilliantly executed and just the look on the actor’s faces say a million words.
There is no type of mood you have to be in to watch this film. You know when you ask someone if they want to watch a film and when you start suggesting ones to watch your met with “I’m in the mood for something more thrilling” or “you have to be open-minded”? You could be in a foul mood, like the jurors in this film, and still, be captivated by 12 Angry Men. This is an extremely easy film to watch and an extremely easy film to follow.
12 Angry Men complete the checklist application of a classic and it earns the right to be called such. It incredibly scary and risky for a film critic to call a film perfect because that carries more responsibility than you might think. But in the case of 12 Angry Men, you could be the most analytical and observant person on the planet, there is no other way to describe this film initially than perfect. It is faultless from start to finish and every piece of information the film gives us makes us realise how much depth this film has, despite taking place in one room. Apparently, this film is the second most shown film in the UK. My teachers never showed me this film when I was at school, but now, I wish they had.