12 Angry Men

Sidney Lumet, USA 1957, 95 minutes

Quite possibly the most tense courtroom drama ever committed to celluloid, under the masterful hands of Sidney Lumet in what was surprisingly his big screen directorial debut. Forget all your John Grisham adaptations, come see the original and still the best.

Unless twelve jurors find a young man innocent of murder, with seemingly insurmountable evidence against him, he will be sentenced to death. The all-male jury vote, and find themselves 11-1 in favour of a guilty verdict. Only juror 8 (Henry Fonda) has reasonable doubt about the Prosecution’s argument. So begins a battle of wills as Fonda tries to convince the other jurors that his belief is right.

In the title of the film lies its entire premise. All of these men believe themselves to be impartial, yet each has an underlying current which influences their attitudes towards the accused, the witnesses, the justice system. One by one, each will be brought to the fore. We never see anything of the trial itself – the action in the film is essentially played out in one room, and it’s not surprising that it was adapted from the stage. Lumet employs numerous methods to enhance the ever-building tension throughout the room, including physically moving the walls in on the actors to enhance the feeling of claustrophobia.

Never condescending, the superb plotting and razor-sharp script demand intelligence from the viewer as we realise that the final verdict is not as important as what we learn from each of these characters, and about ourselves as a result.

Can you afford to miss it?

Yes, it really is just twelve men in a room for an hour and a half. And within that time there is more “action”, tension, drama and excitement than anything Hollywood has produced in the last twenty years. A true classic. A must-see. Pick any cliché you like – they are all true, so I expect to see you at the screening. And if you are a fan of daytime TV, Jack Klugman is Juror 5.

Review by Claire Devlin
Written for EUFS Programme Autumn 2002

A teenager is accused of the murder of his father. Everything seems to point at his guilt. The case seems clear. It is an unbearably hot summers day, but the jurors will have to remain locked in the deliberating room until they come to a unanimous verdict, one way or the other. They want a quick decision. If the boy is pronounced guilty, he will fry. In the first round of votes, only one juror out of the twelve, an architect called Davis (Henry Fonda) writes "not guilty" on his ballot paper. Not even convinced of the boys innocence himself, he is nonetheless resolved to go through the evidence again and unravel any inconsistencies that could help in the boys defence. As the debate goes on, votes change. As the room temperature continues to rise, passions are exacerbated.

Sidney Lumet had adapted Reginal Rose's famous play for the television screen before Henry Fonda (symbolically clad in white in the film) asked him to direct the film which the actor wanted to co-produce. It works out tremendously well as film on the big screen, for the camera, shooting from all angles, captures all the facial expressions and every nervous twitch that give away the personality of each individual as well as his psychological and emotional state. Otherwise it is all drama, in its purest form, superbly acted. The different characters are somewhat too caricatured: the capitalist boss, the old racist, the clown who's only worried about missing a baseball game... but that's part of the beauty of it too. They contrast with each other so well that when their opinions and characters clash, they offer a real spectacle, an exposition of the diversity and complexity of human nature. We also get a view of the two sides of the legal system: the institution that would want itself to be objective, and the human element behind it - twelve men, chosen at random to play their part in the implementation of justice.

The tension that builds up in this one room is incredible. We wholly feel the pressure bearing on Davis who is the embodiment of Shakespeare's line: "Give me justice, justice, justice, justice!"

"Irresistible *****" - Empire

Review by Katia Saint-Peron
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97