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12 Angry Men
USA 1957
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Running time 96 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Although Sidney Lumet's first film, based on Reginald Rose’s adaptation of his own play, now appears a bit contrived, even melodramatic, in its didacticism, one can imagine it appearing quite striking in the 1950s as it tackled prejudice head-on and it remains a film worth watching.

In a sweltering New York summer’s day twelve jury men (these day there would be a more representative gender and racial mix) deliberate the case of a Puerto Rican 18-year-old on trial for murdering his abusive father.  Eleven of them are ready to deliver a quick guilty verdict and get out of there but Juror #8 (Henry Fonda), stubbornly refuses to act in haste and he sets about demonstrating why.  The film is less about identifying holes in the prosecution argument than in demonstrating how pre-dispositions affect interpretations and how there is much more at stake in evaluating a case than simply a balance sheet of “facts”.

Set in a single room with cutaways to hypothetical re-creations of the incidents, a film of this nature depends on the performance of the actors and the directorial shaping of them. In both respects the film comes up trumps. Fonda, Martin. E.G. Marshall, Ed Begley, Sr., Jack Warden, and Lee J. Cobb take the major roles whilst Jack Klugman, Joseph Sweeney, John Fiedler, Ed Binns, George Voskovec, and Robert Webber provide consistent support.

Boris Kaufman’s mobile camera work achieves a fluid, nearly naturalistic effect (offset by the chiaroscuro lighting) whilst Lumet makes the BO palpable and for what is essentially a filmed play with a single set, manages to hold our attention marvellously.

 

 

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