Director: Sydney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Ed Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber
Academy Award Nominations (1958):
Best Director: Sidney Lumet
Best Picture: Henry Fonda, Reginald Rose
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Reginald Rose
“It’s these kids – the way they are nowadays. When I was a kid I used to call my father, “Sir”. That’s right. “Sir”. You ever hear a kid call his father that anymore?”
A 18 year old kid is on trial for the murder of his dad. The case seems pretty straightforward and a guilty verdict seems inevitable. A first vote produces an 11-1 count in favor of guilty. Juror 8 (Fonda) is the lone dissenting vote. As the jurors discuss and dissect the evidence, it becomes apparent that many elements of the prosecution’s case are unreliable and create a reasonable doubt for a number of the jurors. Though some of the jurors are vocal in their insistence that the defendant is guilty, the most passionate of the group is Juror 3 (Cobb), the film’s antagonist. He has had a falling out with his own son, who just so happens to be about the same age as the defendant.
Only three of the 96 minutes in 12 Angry Men takes place outside of the jury deliberation room. By keeping the film here, the story remains focused and deliberate in demonstrating this part of the legal process. Though some of the elements would not take place in real life, I thought Sydney Lumet did a great job in communicating and portraying the great weight the jurors carry in a murder case.
A wide variety of perspectives and prejudices are represented in the 12 jurors. It was interesting to see how the various backgrounds, job fields, and life experience played into each juror’s temperament and the various tipping points for each juror to change their vote. A variety like this helps each juror have some meaningful screen time.
Fonda and Cobb do well as adversaries. Though the evidence and merits of the case are discussed by all of the jurors, these two are the leaders of the respective ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ camps. I thought Fonda really shined as Juror 8, and his relatively calm and collective demeanor throughout helped him contrast with the fiery Jurors such as 3 and 10 (Begley). It was also interesting that we only learn the names of two of the jurors, and that only happened at the very end of the film. By keeping it that impersonal, it helps the audience connect with the character traits each juror can represent.
Though the presentation is very simple, 12 Angry Men does a great job in expressing the significance of jury deliberation in a high-profile case. Sydney Lumet’s film adaptation of Reginald Rose’s book comes to life with memorable, passionate performances and makes this essentially one-set movie engaging from start to finish. I enjoyed watching this one again,
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.