12 Angry Men (1957)
One room. Twelve men. Debating for ninety minutes. That’s it. That’s all there is to this story. And despite that, what 12 Angry Men accomplishes with such minimal setting is something that majority of films fail to achieve with their big budgets & lavish productions. It beautifully demonstrates what all can happen when a flawless script, a capable filmmaker & a committed cast come under one roof and work in perfect harmony, for 12 Angry Men is one of the greatest achievements in the history of filmmaking.
The story of 12 Angry Men takes place inside the jury room where a group of twelve personalities from different backgrounds gather together to decide the fate of an eighteen-year old boy who’s accused of stabbing his father to death. With the preliminary vote indicating that most of them have already made up their minds & consider the defendant guilty, one juror sets in motion further discussions regarding the case by voting “not guilty”. The rest of the film follows the jury’s difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict.
Directed by Sidney Lumet in what’s actually his directional debut, 12 Angry Men sets up its premise relatively quick and once the discussion begins, it’s an extremely gripping, thoroughly absorbing & thought-provoking cinema from that point onwards, keeping a firm grip on the viewers’ attention and never letting go until the very end. Written by Reginald Rose who also scripted the teleplay this film is based on, the screenplay packs an incredibly lean plot that gives each character their fair share of screen time while moving the story forward simultaneously.
Production design team doesn’t have much to do as majority of its plot unfolds in a single location. Cinematography is expertly utilised as the camera slowly n steadily brings the characters closer to the screen as the plot progresses and doesn’t move around much, remaining static for the most part. The black n white imagery also plays its part by giving a timeless sense to its tale. Editing trims all the excess fat to leave behind a lean story which is methodically paced from start to finish. Music is only intermittently used and has a very muted presence in the final print.
Coming to the performances, 12 Angry Men features a powerful cast in Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden & others, all playing their part with utmost sincerity. All the twelve characters are relevant to the story, each one of them is given a distinct identity and the actors chosen to bring these scripted people to life do their job with effortless naturalness. Fonda & Cobb are the definite standouts in my opinion but it doesn’t mean that the contribution from the rest of the cast isn’t up to the mark, for every one of them chips in with a measured performance here.
On an overall scale, 12 Angry Men commences Sidney Lumet’s now-celebrated filmmaking career on an astonishingly high note and is possibly the greatest directional debut in film history. Original in content, accomplished on all scales & full of twists n turns, this is easily the greatest courtroom drama of all time, one of the greatest films ever made, and remains one of the most engrossing, entertaining & emotionally rewarding films in existence. Thanks to its universal appeal & timeless story, it has valiantly stood the test of time for nearly six decades and is destined to do so for many more. In short, masterpieces doesn’t get any more simpler than Sidney Lumet’s magnum opus. One hundred percent recommended.