Friday, June 7, 2013
12 Angry Men (1957)
The directorial debut of the late Sidney Lumet, 12 Angry Men remains—even after fifty years---a stripped-down, thrilling landmark look at the American justice system. Shot in black & white, it traces a murder and the reaction of the jurors deciding the fate of a young poor teenager. Lumet creates unbearable tension despite the film taking place essentially in one setting: a jury room. We get no names, just the number in which the men sat in on the trial. They argue, agree, and insult each other and even bond in a weird way. The jury room becomes a hot-bed for cultural stereotyping…we see rank discrimination and attitudes shifting with moral values. In the end, juror number 8 (a brilliant Henry Fonda) manages to convince the hard-hearted men to see things from a different perspective and open up their minds to the possibility of the youth’s innocence. Within the period, each juror undergoes his own metamorphosis and this reveals Lumet’s real skill: that of exploring ideas that keep us riveted in our seats.
In 2007, the library of Congress selected it as culturally important. A honor well deserved and overdue. Though it didn’t make much impact at the box office or snare any of the three Oscars it was nominated for, today the film is considered a classic. It has even shaped a lot of legal minds in their pursuit of justice, most notably Sonia Sotamayor, a current US Supreme Court judge.