#5: 12 Angry Men

When and how did I watch this?

June 26th, 2017, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yep. I think I saw it in high school, and then a few times since.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

The movie has renown for being that film set entirely in one room.  Riveting performances from the actors all around, all of whom are unnamed throughout the meat of the film. It’s basically a court room drama, but the jurors are already in the back room deliberating what is supposed to be an open-and-shut murder case.  Then Henry Fonda speaks up and all hell breaks loose.

What do I know about it now?

The primary factor is heat.  It’s a hot summer day in New York, and the twelve jurors are sweating it out on multiple levels.  You can sense their impatience from the start — they just want to get this over with, almost unanimously voting “guilty”.  Everyone except for Juror #8 (Fonda), of course, who appears to begin planting doubt just to stir up the pot. He gets all doe eyed and sympathetic to the defendant, and a few of the others are not having it.  Some shouting takes place.  Racial slurs abound. Soon, we’re riding the #8 train along with the rest of the jurors (some more reluctantly than others), and we want the most hardened men in the room to get on board, for crying out loud. (spoiler) Eventually, the heat is too unbearable for Juror #3 (Cobb) and he falls apart and changes his vote to not guilty. What I noticed this time is the cinematography.  As the film progresses, the camera captures shadowing, looming angles, and eventually very close zooms on faces; the actors are highlighted here — they must have full control over their facial expressions for it to work.  And it does.  Most importantly, the film desires to flesh out all of these characters. As a result, true to the film’s intent, we’re sweating it out along with them.

What are some themes in the film?

Pride, due process, prejudice, reasonable doubt, age, apathy

Did this affect me personally?

It’s not as dazzling as it was the first viewing, but I have a higher appreciation for it this time.

Why is this ranked #5?

While this movie is clearly remarkable and unique, it is heavily bolstered by its popularity in classroom settings.  It’s easy for high school teachers to use because it addresses courtroom proceedings, deliberation, court terminology (i.e. hung jury, reasonable doubt) and prejudice, all the while being clean in terms of content.

Did my wife watch/like it?

It’s one of her favorites.

Would I watch it again?

It’s not a terribly challenging or tense film and has a feel-good conclusion, so a rewatch is always welcome.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Sure.  I’m not sure of its integrity as a model of behavior in juror deliberation, but it’s at worst highly entertaining, and it manages to address sensitive topics without becoming preachy.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Yes.  If it weren’t for your civics class, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t know about this movie. Maybe your teacher didn’t play this film in class — or maybe you were too busy passing notes or texting throughout the screening — but your high school drama team has likely put together a stage performance of this screenplay in the last five years. Twelve Angry Men‘s notoriety alone puts it in the Top 250 category, but the tension and drama, along with its treatment of sensitive themes, make it something truly special.  Fonda and Cobb’s respective performances pushes it over the top.

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