Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Day 301 - 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet

12 Angry Men is one of my all time favorite movies but I haven't seen it in years so I figured it'd be okay to watch it again. Plus I've been dying to check out the Criterion Blu-ray that's been sitting on my shelf for a month. What I love so much about this film is that it is a gripping drama that keeps you captivated simply by people acting. Just stick twelve actors in a small room with a camera and you have one of the best movies of all time.

The film is a courtroom drama where we must figure out if a kid is guilty of murder. If convicted he goes to the electric chair, if not he walks, plain and simple. Except nothing is that simple when it comes to deciding the fate of someone's life. From the onset it seems like an open and shut case and that the decision may take just five minutes. The jurors vote and one by one they all raise their hands for guilty, except for one man, juror number 8 (Henry Fonda). It is important to note that Number 8 doesn't necessarily think that the kid is innocent, only that the case is at least worth discussing. It is no easy thing to send a man to his death, nor is it easy for one man to stand up against eleven. In this way the film sort of reminds me of High Noon where one man must stand alone. 12 Angry Men may be a courtroom drama about law and justice, but it is all built upon a single act of courage.

So we slowly learn about the case second hand through their discussion. We learn about key facts and witnesses and we hear points and counterpoints. The kid may very well be guilty but that is not the point. The great thing about the American legal system is that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and slowly but surely doubt creeps into the jurors' minds. But no matter what evidence or testimony is refuted, there are some jurors who are convinced the kid is guilty. We learn a lot about the case, but we learn even more about the jurors. Each has his own distinct personality that we pick up on and are familiar with. This isn't just a collection of people deciding a case but a representative of American society as a whole. They represent the very best of people, logical, compassionate, and humble, and the very worst, angry, prejudiced, and opinionated. It is a film like 12 Angry Men where we realize the beauty in the American legal system and also its fatal flaw, the reliance on people who have their own opinions.

The film packs twelve men together in one stifling room. It is the hottest day of the year and we can see the sweat pouring down their faces. The heat is a not so subtle thematic device used to mirror the tension in the room. They have heated debates, tempers flare and anger erupts. Adding to the tension is the use of the camera which slowly tightens up as the film progresses, making the room feel smaller squeezing in on the jurors. In the beginning the debate is mostly civil with everything shot in medium length. Then we start to see more close ups where we can see the walls and the ceilings closing in as the arguments get more heated. Finally by the end, it is almost suffocating. It would have been so easy to just sit a camera in the front of the room and start rolling, but Lumet adds in this great and effective touch. I could go on and on about this movie, but I think I hit the key points. It's a really great movie that I'd tell anyone who hasn't watched it to do so immediately.

Grade: A

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