A genuine splendor and care by director Sidney Lumet are shown in a brilliant movie “12 Angry Men”- a 1957 American courtroom drama film adapted from the teleplay with the same title by Reginald Rose. The movie is focused on the opinions, perceptions, biases, prejudice and judgement of twelve diverse characters whose task is to pronounce whether a young man, on trial for murdering his father, is undoubtedly guilty or innocent. These 12 roles are portrayed by excellent movie stars of that time, including most profitable actor Henry Fonda also Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Ed Begley and Robert Webber and others whose performances keeps everyone on the edge of their seat during the whole watch time. However, the real success behind this screen adaptations’ substantial box office ratings, numerous nominations for Oscars, Golden globe awards and won in movie festivals comes from the films’ main idea and concept. Even though the movie was made over 60 years ago, the characters and the topic of conflicting duality of progress and humanity that fetishizes nativist arguments of the early twentieth century that is portrayed in the adaptation have a striking relevance to the world of today.
The plot of the movie revolves around a murder trial and how the 12 members of the jury must decide on the verdict whether a Hispanic teen is guilty of killing his own father or not; If he is guilty, he will be put up in the electric chair and killed. At the beginning of the film, the jurors all seem to have made up their minds and vote that the boy must be convicted. They have gone all over the details in the court, have heard all the arguments and the defense: the evidence and testimonies of neighbors and police officers presented against the defendant in the trial seem overwhelmingly convincing. Thus, it comes as a surprise when one of the jurors (Jury #8), the logical, well-spoken architect Henry Fonda votes the boy to be innocent. Annoyed by the view of Jury #8, supposedly contrarian view, the twelve discusses about the case and goes over the evidence through the span of few hours, each gradually moving to the side of Fonda(Jury #8) as evidence contradicts.
The movies brilliance is apparent in its visual strategy: the director, Sidney Lumet, masterfully creates a very claustrophobic and suspenseful feeling throughout the whole movie using only one set and different camera angles. 12 Angry Men is filmed almost entirely in a tiny New York City courtroom with not much place to move, meaning that filmmakers had to get very creative with camera placements to make every shot to have a powerful and interesting meaning. Also, right from the beginning of the film it is indicated that the meeting takes place on the hottest day of the year with everyone sweating and no fresh air to breath – emphasizing the lack of space and freedom. It is almost as the director Sidney Lumet handled this film like a suspenseful action movie with limited resources, but it worked in the best way as the simple sets, stark lighting and one location lets the characters to show their truest human impulses.
The introduction of the characters is another beautiful film shot which makes the movie unique: the way all 12 jurors come and filter through the room was filmed only with one long shot rather than cutting the act into different parts. The audience gets introduced to every single character and to learn integral piece of the information about each man. The way the director keeps steadily repositioning the camera around the characters makes the audience feel like they are watching many different scenes. These introductions make it easier and more entertaining to learn the case information through these characters and the way they talk during the movie, rather than knowing everything at the start. It is indulging and keeps you right at the edge of your seat throughout the movie wishing to not miss any details or certain character elements.
What is more, the acting of the Henry Fonda (Jury #8) as well as Lee J. Cobb (Jury #3) is impeccable. Especially interesting and convincing is Lee J. Cobb’s acting as he plays severely damaged character and as the film progress you begin to realize that there is some personal vengeance underneath his surface and that is why this character desires the Hispanic kid to be sentenced to death. The back and forth between the protagonist Henry Fonda and antagonist Lee j. Cobb is so well structed and acted that at the end of the movie, a simple gestures of helping the man to put on his suit coat tells a lot about both the characters and their developments without any dialogues.
As Henry Fonda (Jury #8) tries to persuade people who think that the kid is guilty throughout the movie, you get to learn that perhaps some facts do not matter to certain people, some of them have other agendas. There is an amazing aspect of this film that deals with the controversial topics of personal prejudice, biases and judgement where one particular Juror continues to reference the Hispanic kid as a ‘’kid who lives in slums’’, ‘’very poor’’, or refers to the teen as “one of them”. He expresses his thoughts through rant and rage regardless of the logical explanations and evidence discussed by other jurors. This creates tension and beautiful character development between him and another juror who has lived in the slums his whole life.
“12 Angry men“ is considered to be a masterpiece due to its historical accuracy of portraying the American justice system and genuine reflection of the relationship between the characters of different races. Nearly 60 years after its release, the film still strongly appeals to anyone interested in the topics of law, justice system or conflicting values of humanity and societies prejudice point of view. Even though for Sidney Lumet “12 angry men“ was a debut as a director, the movie gave a strong boost to his career, due to its controversial issues and his consideration of audience’s intelligence and helped to create more projects surrounding the oppression and discrimination topics in the Justice systems.