Theater at its best is practically impossible to get down on film correctly. When Hollywood gets it right, they create a work of art. In this case, they did it simply, without frills, casting actors who looked real and fell into their individual parts like kids into a swimming pool on a hot summers day. It's the hottest day of the year, and these twelve men must decide the fate of an accused killer. But twelve men means twelve personalities, twelve temperaments, twelve political views, twelve religious opinions and twelve preconceived notions. As the temperature swells, so does the temperament.
Having been a very reluctant jury foreman, I find myself seeing eye to eye with the shyness of the man forced to lead the proceedings. Everybody looks at you to get the ball rolling and hopefully get out of there as quickly as possible. Martin Balsam, as the foreman, tries to remain dignified and not be overly in control, losing that to one of the jurors who looks at the case in a completely different way than the others. Twelve personalities means plenty of neuroses, and in a very short time, seeing what's really going on in the minds of strangers whom you'll never see again.
This trial involves young John Sacova, accused of killing his own father, and the twelve men must decide whether he gets the chair or not. These men, only identified through their juror number, are completely different, and it's obvious from the start that some of them (John Fiedler in particular) vote guilty because they think they have to. Only one (Henry Fonda) votes not guilty, and of course, one of them says, "There's always one." There are the aggressive ones certain of guilt, empathetic ones who would like to see the charges reduced, and those who view all young people from certain areas as scum regardless of their situation. At 60 years old, this film shows the same prejudices we face today, yet shows that there is always someone not about to follow the crowd simply because something strikes them as off. It is Fonda who will pretty much control the room, although he does it in a subtle way where nobody realizes that he's pretty much taken over.
While jury's have changed in 60 years (allowing women to serve being the most obvious change),what hasn't changed in the conflict of trying to understand the truth and to agree with 11 other people about it. Fonda goes against what would be allowed today by acting on his own and visiting the neighborhood of the crime, but his passion in figuring out the truth is very admirable. He is quiet in his determination, making this typical Fonda but one that fills his soul with humility and integrity.
Under the direction of novice Sidney Lumet, the entire cast is outstanding. Familiar faces from all walks of show business each get their chance to shine. Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, to name a few. I could easily write something about each of them, but it's worth checking them all out yourself. The one juror who really makes an impression in creating his character is Lee J. Cobb as the very aggressive juror who is hiding behind similarities to the case, having had a contentious relationship with his son that sparks his instant sense that the defendant is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. He was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe (as was Fonda),but the Oscars only acknowledged the film, director and script for nominations.
Each jury is its own story, and from city to city, nothing changes but the type of case and the date.
12 Angry Men
Action / Crime / Drama
12 Angry Men
Action / Crime / Drama
The defense and the prosecution have rested, and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young man is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open-and-shut case of murder soon becomes a detective story that presents a succession of clues creating doubt, and a mini-drama of each of the jurors' prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, AND each other. Based on the play, all of the action takes place on the stage of the jury room.—pjk
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