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Film Review: 12 Angry Men (1957)

After a long and arduous murder case, a group of jurors are sent to a small room to reach a final, unanimous verdict. As they become acquainted with the assigned room, so too do they become acquainted with the other jurors. The camera sweeps between these 12 men as they discuss the seemingly unquestionable verdict of guilty, which would result in death for the young boy being charged. But as the men cast their votes, one in the group stands alone in his reasonable doubt regarding the finality of this case. 

12 Angry Men is a classic of Hollywood cinema. What makes it stand out as a brilliant film beyond even the label of ‘classic’ is the relevancy it still retains some 65 years later. Other classics may be remembered mainly for the fact they’re considered ‘a classic’ in the first place, but 12 Angry Men is remembered for dealing with topics that always have been and always will be relevant AND for presenting them in such a compelling and enthralling way. 

As the story plays out, the screenplay gives plenty of room for the film to work as both a riveting judicial murder mystery of sorts and as a thought-provoking social inspection. The social aspects come about as a result of the divisive and opinionated verdicts reached among the men; they give insight into the psychology and sociology behind systematic xenophobia and racism, toxic masculinity, and crowd conformity. Better yet, it does it in such a SIMPLE way.

The character writing here is top-notch. A large and inherent struggle in ensemble-films is the underdevelopment of key characters. 12 Angry Men solves this problem by equipping its characters with notable and recognizable characteristics. However, what makes it remarkable is the tactful nuance it does this with; the characters’ believability (and often relatability) isn’t suffocated by their quirks. 

Stemming from those characteristics… the motivations of the 12 men and the conclusions they draw or change throughout is so fascinating. Some of the men change their minds due to logical or evidential reasons, and some due to selfish frustrations. Similarity, some of the men maintain their verdicts due to their desire for more conclusive evidence, and some due to personal biases and prejudices. Narratively speaking, there’s a noticeable lack of righteousness for either of the two groups, making the only truly ‘right’ answer the truth, whichever side it should fall on. 

Naturally, a film relying so heavily on its dialogue and characters needs some strong performances, and 12 Angry Men delivers. Henry Fonda as Juror 8 is clearly the star here, but he’s far from being the only to deliver a memorable performance. Lee J. Cobb delivers  in an unforgettably antagonistic role as Juror 3, while E.G. Marshall brings plenty of subtlety to Juror 4’s thoughtful skepticism. Even so, nearly every performance is likely to stick in your memory long after the credits roll. 

The word ‘masterpiece’ is perhaps thrown around too often about too much, but you could certainly make a case for 12 Angry Men being deserving of the title. It has aged remarkably well, both cinematically and culturally, and is easily one of the best films of all time.

Overall rating: 10/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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