Stars: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam
Director: Sidney Lumet
Released: 5 June 1958 (Australia)
I had been wanting to watch the Sidney Lumet classic 12 Angry Men (1957) for some time. I’d heard of the Oscar-winning director but unfortunately had not yet seen any of his work even though my watch list contained some of his most well-known films including Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and Until the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007). I thought I’d go for his 1957 Oscar-nominated debut (and what a debut it was!).
The film’s onset can be perceived as somewhat dull. Black and white. Twelve men. One jury room. It didn’t take long until I realised how wrong I was. This movie is compelling and, although not action packed, tense. This is why you should not judge a book (or film) by its cover.
The film’s plot is simple. A jury deliberates the case of an 18-year-old Hispanic boy from the New York slums who is accused of murdering his father. A verdict of not guilty will be given if there is any reasonable doubt otherwise the boy will be given the death penalty. Many of the film’s themes are still prevalent in today’s society such as prejudice, class, justice and the power of one.
Given the lack of diversity of cast (there was one foreign man, no one under the age of forty, excluding the 18-year-old Hispanic boy on trial, and no females) and the whole movie being set in one hot, sweaty room you have to ultimately rely on the script and characters. These, and the films use of lighting, are where it shines and achieves its 8.9 rating on IMDb.
With a runtime of 96 minutes, this film does not drag on and packs all it can into this relatively short timeframe. Whether a fan of classic films (you more than likely have seen it already), legal dramas or film-noir I can not recommend this highly enough.