¨It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is.¨
12 Angry Men is one of the best courtroom dramas I`ve seen despite the fact of it being filmed way back in 1957 in black and white and happening almost entirely (except for the opening 3 minutes and a few seconds in the end) inside an enclosed room. So why is this so good? Because Reginald Rose came up with an excellent story, which he wrote as a play first and was later turned into a movie under the direction of the great Sidney Lumet. This was actually Lumet`s first feature film and among his best movies all time, although it wasn’t received really well when it first came out. This film paved the way for Sidney who in the 70`s made one great film after another (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network). 12 Angry Men works thanks to the strong characters that are introduced in the story starring Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb. In order for a film in an enclosed room to work you need a very engaging story with interesting characters and that is what Rose was able to do. Many great plays have failed to perform well in film, so credit has to be given to Sidney who managed to maintain the tension and suspense in the movie. As the film moves on the enclosed room seems to be closing in on each character, and this was achieved really well by Sidney. The dialogue in this film is really powerful and authentic as we see how each character interacts with one another. Sidney manages to let the action play out through words because the entire film is one giant deliberation between these 12 men.
The film opens in a courtroom where we hear the judge say his final words before sending the 12 men in the jury to deliberate over whether the accused young Spanish American is guilty or not of murdering his father. He reminds the jury that if they find the teenager to be guilty then he will be sentenced to death. The 12 men enter the jury room where the rest of the film takes place as they deliberate whether or not the kid is guilty. Everyone seems to have made their mind up and believe he`s guilty even before beginning to debate the issue. The first thing they do is vote and 11 of the 12 men believe he`s guilty pointing to the clear evidence, but Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) claims to have his doubts. He isn`t sure the guy is innocent, but he has reasonable doubts so he asks the rest of the jurors to deliberate about it for the next hour considering that the young man`s life is in their hands. Once the jurors begin to debate the issue the more difficult the case becomes and doubts begin to creep in all over the place. The rest of the jury is played by Martin Balsam (#1), John Fiedler (#3), Lee J. Cobb (#4), E.G. Marshall (#4), Jack Klugman (#5), Edward Binns (#6), Jack Warden (#7), Joseph Sweeney (#9), Ed Begley (#10), George Voskovec (#11), and Robert Webber (#12). The debate escalates as tension builds and the jurors begin to grow impatient over one another`s arguments. The small room and the heat also seem to play an important factor in the story.
One of the greatest things about the film is that it actually serves as a case study as how small groups work and how important communication can be in these scenarios. Many of the jurors entered the room with prejudice and had their own conceived ideas, but sometimes in order to find the truth you have to discuss the issue as objectively as possible. As the men debate we see how all of this plays out, and Reginald Rose writes the story in such a way that it begins to unfold through the conversations these men are having about their own views. There is no mention of names (except for the final scene where we hear the name of two of the jurors), but we do find out a lot about each character through the way they think and act. Their personalities are very different and that always makes it hard to have everyone agree with each other. This is why the film is used in so many business and communication schools today. These characters are well crafted and we might even have come across a couple of these jurors in real life because their personalities and views are still very much alive in the 21st century. Overall I believe this to be a great film and a must watch for all cinema lovers. It is really well executed and one has to admire the talents of Sidney Lumet and Henry Fonda who have left us with their rich legacy.