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  • Writer's pictureDeenur _

12 ANGRY MEN (1957): one of the best very good films

This film, while also many other things, is a spectacular example of wringing every emotional response possible from an audience, with a single location drama.

I was in a conversation one time with a person who was saying, "I love movies! I am all about movies! I'd rather watch movies than do anything else. I love movies!" To which I replied. "Oh, have you see 12 Angry Men?" To which they replied, "No! That's black and white." Uh, yeah.

This film is one of the best films ever made. It belongs right up there with Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but if you don't watch B&W films, you haven't seen those either. 12 Angry Men has all the right things brought together for the makings of a nearly perfect film. It's an unparalleled treat. Henry Fonda stars as an architect selected as a juror for the murder trial of a young man from the slums. The other 11 jurors have already decided the young man's fate when the group enters the jury room for deliberation. Fonda, explaining that he just wants to talk about it, holds up the verdict, much to the disdain of the others.

He doesn't know it yet, but something is bothering him. Somehow the story doesn't fit together quite right. And as Fonda unravels each point, each detail, and each clue, each segment gives another man a chance to rethink what he has decided, and why.

The story unfolds in nearly real time, save for some cuts and edits, and the other men begin, one by one, to wonder if Fonda isn't right, and if the young man was unjustly accused. The casting decisions are a master class of pairing the right actor with their role. And what a supporting cast Fonda is blessed to work with: Lee J Cobb (On the Waterfront), E.G. Marshall (The Caine Mutiny), Martin Balsam (Breakfast at Tiffany's and Catch 22), Ed Begley (the Unsinkable Molly Brown) as well as Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Joseph Sweeney and even John Fiedler (Piglet in Winnie the Pooh). Each actor owns the roles they were given- a non-plussed financial advisor, a football coach, a dock worker, an angry dad, a retiree- all part of the group that will decide if the young man in question lives or dies and Fonda is fascinating to watch as he addresses each detail that the prosecuting and defense attorneys glossed over.

The story starts off with a slam in the face: a young man is going to die for murder, and the well-handled arguments keeps you guessing until the end. The cinematography complements every twist as turn in the story, as each man gets his chance to explain what he thinks of the accusation and trial, having then to face his own prejudices and bias, or lack thereof. Even where the story slows down to give us a breath, it doesn't lose the viewer's attention, keeping things taut from beginning to end. It's riveting.

12 Angry Men demonstrates the difference between movies without effects vs movies that rely heavily on special effects to push the vehicle along but have a plot as thin as notebook paper. Yes, it's from a time when movies were character and dialogue driven. But in a day when "Mumblecore" is a thing (a genre of narrative film focusing primarily on the intimate lives of young characters and featuring scenes of ample dialogue and minimal action), you would think the film would play well. Sadly, I suspect that some members of today's audiences may find it "boring" or "unable to keep my attention." There are no car crashes, no explosions, no shootouts, no sex, no nudity- and 12 Angry Men doesn't need any.

Think about the best films ever made- the Godfather, Schindler's List, the aforementioned Casablanca and Citizen Kane. Those films have a depth of character that is rarely seen in modern movies (two of the noteworthy exceptions to the rule would be "the Help" and "Hidden Figures"). 12 Angry Men is in that class: a film that digs deep into the depth of human character and asks us to ask questions about who we are, and why. I have always loved films about the human condition, which is why two of my favorite boxing films are films that are not about boxing ("Requiem for a Heavyweight" and "The Harder They Fall")

Films like Requiem and Harder examine the question of "how do we treat others?" It's an important question, and 12 Angry Men stands up in that line with the best of them.

Accolades - Selected as 2nd greatest court room drama of all time. Consistently on all-time great film lists. Nominated for 3 Academy awards.

If you are the kind of person that (like me) finds themselves at times with special effects fatigue, and are ready for an exceptional film, watch 12 Angry Men and see if you don't agree with it's exceptionalism.

IMDB rates it a 9.0/10, and I would have to say 9.5. I can't think of a single place where I would change it. Enjoy.

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