Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, E.G Marshall, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber
I feel like I say this far too often but this is another one of those classics that I was yet to see. ’12 Angry Men’ had the added pressure of being number seven in the IMDb top 250 of all time too, but a film that highly regarded HAS to be good right? The short answer is yes, it is THAT good. Not only does ’12 Angry Men’ have a nice run time of just over 90 minutes, but it’s also on Netflix right now, so there’s really no excuse not to watch what is genuinely one of the best films ever made.
The premise is rather simple, and even after nearly 60 years, remains quite unique and original. Twelve very different men form the jury for a murder trial, to determine the fate of a young boy accused of murdering his father. Eleven of the men in the room are certain of his guilt and want to send him to the electric chair, but one man is not so sure and stands up to the rest of the jurors to convince them that the case isn’t as clean cut as it appears, and that a human life at the very least deserves some discussion before being condemned.
The man leading the “not guilty” argument is played fantastically by a time-traveling Willem Dafoe. Just kidding, it’s Henry Fonda, but look it up cos those two are surely related in some way. Fonda is instantly endearing, not least for the way his character bravely stands against the majority, but also the calm, charismatic manner in which he conducts himself throughout. He’s the one who never falters, never loses his cool and really seems to cut to the core of not only the case but the eleven other men around the table. Of those eleven men, Joseph Sweeney (juror number 9) and Lee J. Cobb (juror number 3) give probably the most noteworthy performances, but the whole ensemble is absolutely fantastic.
I know it can deter some people so I have to just throw a disclaimer out there and say that this film is shot in black and white. But please do not let that put you off; if there’s any black and white film you should make an exception for, this is the one. Even with the lack of colour, some of the shots here are quite impacting, particularly the close ups. The crowning glory of ’12 Angry Men’ though comes from the dialogue and the way this is powerfully delivered by every man around the table, so kudos to the writers and actors. It’s an immensely intelligent, thought-provoking story which will hook you and stir the emotions, and a story which is just as relevant today as it was 60 years ago (and probably will remain relevant for a long time to come). For a film which sticks to one location – and such a simple one at that – this is storytelling of the highest quality. It’s almost like you’re watching in a small theatre, with the jury room as a set in a play.
I really have no criticisms to throw at ’12 Angry Men’; this film is rightfully regarded as a masterpiece. If you’re somewhat apprehensive about old, black and white films, let this be the film to change your perspective. You will have to invest yourself somewhat, but believe me you will be rewarded. If you haven’t seen ’12 Angry Men’ before, take the opportunity and make it the next film you watch on Netflix.