Stumbled into 12 Angry Man. I don’t know if I would’ve watched it if it wasn’t thrust in my way. And I loved it.
I’m not the type that finds black-and-white movies automatically hypnotizing, but I don’t think I would have jumped at the opportunity to add a courtroom black-and-white to my to-be-watched list.
But 12 Angry Men is amazing. It was even more satisfying to watch than all the movies that made me slap my lap and go “How did I not think of that!”, more enthralling than eye-candy actors. So glad we saw it in class.
It was satisfying in that it was very simple. 12 Angry Men, directed by Sydney Lumet, released in 1957 claimed the throne of an all-time classic by literally cramping twelve angry men in a room. And it worked.
12 Angry Men had a great reason to keep 12 different characters in one room: In a courtroom, a jury of twelve men retired to discuss the verdict: whether a boy accused of murdering his father is guilty. As they took a preliminary vote, eleven voted guilty, but as a bitter old man said, “There’s always one.”
It was the hottest day of the year.
Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) was that one. He did not, as the other men did, raise his one hand that wasn’t so busy fanning himself, and send the defendant to the electric chair, just so he could get out of the hot stuffy room. He didn’t think the boy charged with first-degree murder is innocent. He just had questions, a ton of questions, which first elicited nothing but groans from his fellow jurors. But as he plunged further into his critical thinking, more jurors were to start having their “reasonable doubt”, and eventually change their minds.
So there you have it, a story about twelve sweaty intense white men wearing ties, trapped in a room.
They were, however, twelve vastly different men, each with his own background, prejudices, temper, occupation and soft spot. To list a few, the advertising guy (Robert Webber) had no opinion, but knew how to lubricate a bottlenecked discussion; the baseball guy (Jack Warden) was only eager to watch his ball game; one man (Ed Begley) was plain racist towards the lower class while another man (Jack Klugman) grew up in a slum. Then there was juror 3, who was stubborn bursting with hatred towards the defendant because of his unpleasant memories with his own son. But every character had a point where they vote “not guilty”.
Besides the screenplay, the characterization is also on point thanks to Lumet’s amazing directing skills. Everything flowed as the 12 men argued, stood up and sat down, smoked, swore and sweated. He took close shots of a character’s face if he is going through a pivotal train of thought, which at first I was a bit unused to, but close-ups revealed all the sweat, the focus and the passion. On top of that, Lumet also later noted in a book that he used a “lens plot” for the movie.
He wrote, “I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.”
And 12 Angry Men was the first movie Sydney Lumet ever directed. Wow.
Lastly, the movie is an excellent discussion of humanity. While having the jury thoroughly examine the evidence presented in the case- knife wound angles, the walking speed of a limping old man and the loudness of an L train, the movie also managed reveal the back stories of every juror and how that played into their decision-making process.
Here’s one of the most powerful scenes for me: The bitter racist juror (Ed Begley) stood up and blurted out a whole diatribe against people from slums, “You know how these people lie. It’s born in them… They don’t really need any bit reason to kill someone…” And I squirmed in excitement in my bed as I watched every juror stand up, walk away and turn his back, one after another, even the ones who found the boy guilty.
For the 12 angry men, the clock could wait when it comes to justice and humanity; so for you, the clock should also be able to wait, as you sit down and watch this absolute classic. Go find moral sanctuary and some peace with 12 Angry Men cramped in a hot jury room.