Looking Back Friday – 12 Angry Men (1957)
This week Sam looks at the Lumet classic and much loved courtroom drama, 12 Angry men…
In 12 Angry Men we have twelve gentlemen who must make a ruling of a murder case in which a younger boy is accused of using a blade knife to stab his father in the chest. The conceit seems straightforward. And in perhaps a coincidental happenstance, the seemingly simplicity of the case is in replication of our filmmaker’s style.
On the surface director Sidney Lumet has a striking, yet conventional technique to filmmaking. But dig deeper – within both the crux of the case in 12 Angry Men and through Lumet’s oeuvre – and you’ll find a plethora of significance, subtext, and social commentary that remarkably manages to stay bold and contemporary.
However, what’s even more remarkable is that a film ingrained so deeply in theatricality, could amount to something so evocative and emotionally stirring.
Set entirely in one sweltering room (except for an opening prologue where we see the judge and the boy being prosecuted) we are left with 12 individuals. All have their own specific characterization and each character is referred to as the number of which they are designated (i.e.: juror #7).
In the beginning the group of men openly vote on the case. The count is 11 to 1. For better or worse our court system requires a unanimous decision before progressing.
Henry Fonda plays juror number 8, the one character with reasonable doubt who is responsible for the holdout. Fonda is the catalyst for this 18-year-old’s innocence and the one who provokes poignant questions and demands pragmatic reasoning amid the juror room.
As the film progresses the tide begins to turn, plot twists come out of left field, and the jurors – one by one – rethink their position.
One of Lumet’s greatest attributes as a filmmaker is his ability to capture monologues. Both 12 Angry Men and Network are loaded with them. Each of the 12 jurors get their fair share of biting dialogue – and with each character unfolding their perspectives (and motives), the case unravels.
There’s much to rave home about in 12 Angry Men: the brilliance of the ensemble drama, each actors performance, the dissection of people prejudices, the fact that the film was born by Reginald Rose’s 1954 teleplay and coproduced by Henry Fonda with his own money, the list goes on.
However, the most astounding concept that I can hardly fathom is that 12 Angry Men is Sidney Lumet’s directorial debut. Very rarely is a filmmaker able to capture an atmosphere with prowess, intensity, or honesty. And the idea of a director doing so on his first at bat, is shocking.
Then yet again, the whole cinematic experience of 12 Angry Men is shocking to a state of pure encapsulation. There aren’t many moments of rest within the script, mainly because it’s a constant barrage of argument, investigation, and deductive reasoning.
While the narrative is particularly small in scope – considering the film is set in one room and revolves around one unidentifiable case – 12 Angry Men manages to be a knowledgeable movie about character, preconceptions, and questions that are often left unasked due to the answers that may be uncovered.
Sam Fragoso is the creator of his site Duke & The Movies, Chief critic at Anomalous Material, and freelances for numerous online publications. You can follow him on twitter @Samfragoso
About The Author – Sam Fragoso
Born in Chicago, but now based in Fresno, California, Sam Fragoso is a Junior in High School who has been writing about contemporary cinema since late 2009 for his site Duke & The Movies. Beyond containing a feverous passion for film, he has a certain disdain for these introductions that require him to refer to himself by name. Alas, he does it anyways.
Did you enjoy this film? Is it a classic? Comment below…