When you’re watching a movie, it’s pretty fair to expect a lot of different things to happen in the course of the running time, and for the events to play out in a number of different places. Well what if I were to tell you that one of the most widely praised films ever made, 12 Angry Men, takes place in one room and you never even know the names of the characters. Sounds like it would be hard to really get sucked into a movie like that, but if it weren’t possible, would this be said to be one of the objectively greatest films ever to be made?
On the hottest day of the year, 12 New York City jurors are left with the task of deciding the fate of an 18 year old boy who allegedly stabbed his father to death. At first, the case seems pretty open and close and most of the jury, who want to get out of there as soon as possible, seem convinced that he is guilty. All but Juror #8 (Henry Fonda). While he doesn’t know for sure if the boy is guilty or innocent, he doesn’t believe that there shouldn’t be a discussion and that some of the evidence isn’t as concrete as everyone believes. As the afternoon progresses, and the discussions get more personal and heated, it becomes clear that this boy’s life is in the hands of flawed human beings who may let their prejudices take precedence over their judgement.
The relationship between the actor and the screenplay are very tight and important to strengthen. The actors really depend on the screenplay to be well made and structured in order to give a believable performance, and vice versa for the screenplay. In my opinion, never has this relationship been more important to a movie’s success. Like I said before, save for a few brief scenes, this movie takes place all in one room with the main driving force of the story being the dialogue. There is no flashback to the murder or any other action to speak of. What really makes this work is the writing by Reginald Rose and the acting. Henry Fonda, Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb give especially good performances in roles that may seem a bit ahead of their time.
Seeing that there are 12 men in the room, and since they are the only important characters in the film, it is important that nothing is shirked when it comes to sculpting their characters. Luckily, each and every one is molded perfectly and uniquely. Even though we just meet these people in the beginning of the movie where they’ve already lived their lives up until this point, I got the sense that I knew exactly who each man was. Again, there’s no flashbacks or elaborate stories explaining who they are. We learn about them gradually as the film goes on through small side conversations and their opinions on the case, especially concerning the boy’s innocence.
12 Angry Men is a thematic powerhouse, and is one that I could really discuss for hours on end. Everything from the flaws in the judicial system, social class, and prejudice are explored over the course of the movie. What’s also smart is that there isn’t a definite answer the questions and themes that this movie is bringing up. It wants the viewer to watch and analyze it for themselves, and then their opinions can be made. It doesn’t waste time spoon feeding you.
12 Angry Men truly is a remarkable movie. One thing I didn’t mention before is how the movie starts out in wide angle shots with plenty of room, and as it goes on, the shots get closer and more claustrophobic. Even the little details like that are important to the movie. The characters, acting, and writing are the true successes to this film and it has some pretty heavy questions that will make you think about yourself and your own beliefs. This film is a classic, and even if old movies aren’t your style, you should watch and be thrilled by 12 Angry Men.