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12 Angry Men (1957)

Life Is In Their Hands -- Death Is On Their Minds!

Starring:

E.G. Marshall

Ed Begley

Edward Binns

George Voskovec

Henry Fonda

Jack Klugman

Jack Warden

John Fiedler

Joseph Sweeney

Lee J. Cobb

Martin Balsam

Robert Webber

Directed by:

Sidney Lumet

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

US Certificate: Approved UK Certificate: U

Country: United States

The classic courtroom drama 12 Angry Men is based on such a simple concept. A jury adjourns to make a decision on the guilt of the accused. Eleven out of the twelve immediately find the defendant guilty but Juror #8 (Fonda) feels that he is not guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Against initial strong opposition he sets about trying to win over the jurors to his point of view by questioning the reliability of the witnesses. The all-male jury consists of a selection of different characters who have varying takes on the case, including Juror #7 (Warden) who just wants the trial to end so he can go to a ballgame and Juror #5 (Klugman) who’s from a similar background to the accused.

For a film that is based in one room without any action scenes or special effects it is an engrossing affair thanks to choice dialogue and an atmosphere of tension. A tight runtime of just over an hour and a half means that the pace never lets up as it powers towards its climax. The twelve jurors may only be known by numeral monikers and we are provided with the sparsest of details about their lives outside the courtroom, but through brilliant characterisation and acting each one is given a personality through mannerisms and personality traits. This could only be pulled off with superb acting across the board led by the understated but powerful performance of Henry Fonda.

I’m going to fly in the face of conventional wisdom here and say that although I think that this is a very, very good film it is not one of the greatest movies ever made. It is a little too preachy about the infallibility of law and justice and predictability. This maybe a generational thing whereby I see these as a given in today’s society and not as a remarkably part of Western democracy. The amazing acting, characterisation and dialogue raise it way above a standard courtroom drama, but to the standard of one of humankind’s five greatest screen works (IMDB Top 250)? I’m not so sure.

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It's Got: Excellent acting all round, great dialogue and tension building.

It Needs: To have been seen in its context for a full appreciation.

Alternatives:

My Cousin Vinny, To Kill a Mockingbird, Witness for the Prosecution

Summary

An exceptionally executed courtroom drama – without the courtroom but with a whole lot of riveting drama.

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