Movie Review: 12 Angry Men

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Hey everyone, it’s Kern here, bringing you something just a little different today. In 1957, the movie 12 Angry Men hit theaters and took movie watchers by storm. The movie demanded a certain level of forbearance as a drama and a thought piece.

Even these days, I’d be willing to call it unconventional. Then again, I’d also certainly call the film compelling. This movie is an oldie to be sure, you can only find it in black and white. Back in those days, technicolor was still a rarity in many households and theaters.

Regardless, this feature film stands the test of time, and that’s why I’ll be reviewing it today.

The premise is simple enough on the surface. It’s just a court drama, little more, little less. What makes this movie so interesting is the way these themes are addressed. Confined to a room, twelve men need to come to a decision reguarding a murder trial. All the while someone’s life hangs in a delicate balance. We never get to know that someone first hand, only what these twelve men have to say about him.

These men are acting as a jury, and on the surface the accused man looks guilty… but what if he isn’t? All of the evidence seems to line up, but it’s also full of holes, so what is this jury to do?

Is there any reasonable doubt at all?

That is the entire basis of this film. The beginning and the end of it, wrapped up in layers of context and subtext, the question comes down to one thing. Is there any reasonable doubt? If so, they shouldn’t convict this man of a murder he might not have comitted.

One juror, unconvinced of the suspect’s guilt, refuses to believe that there isn’t cause for reasonable doubt. Frankly, he’s just not sure that the man on trial committed a crime at all.

Morals and ethics pervade this film first and foremost. Personal opinions and emotional biases carry a lot of weight in that room and surrounding the table in the aftermath. This old classic doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, just a simple setting and a problem at hand.

Is the suspect actually guilty? Who knows?

It’s not about if the suspect is actually guilty or not. It’s about the conclusions these characters come to while trying to decide that. Now, one might rightly argue there’s more ego and testosterone involved around the table than what might be valuable to a firm debate. You might also say there’s almost too much posturing at times.

There are certainly enough hot heads and diatribes based upon hurt feelings and egos to go around. Given the mindsets of the era, you can hardly be surprised. You wouldn’t be at fault for taking issue with it.

I won’t even say this classic film would appeal to a vast many sorts of viewers these days…

For movie fans that it would appeal to, there’s a genuine human interest story to be found here. The heart and soul of these men rests beyond mere conjecture, and even the most loud mouthed idiot among them has solid reasons to act the way he does, blind rage or not.

Judicious and sound reasoning comes at the price of boredom and time loitering around until they can agree on a verdict. There are other places most of these characters would rather be, but until a decision is made, they’re stuck there, arguing among themselves.

Henry Fonda plays the willing skeptic as Juror number Eight. Only known to us as “Davis” at the end of the movie. All we ever know about his character is that he’s in search of justice, works as an architect and is a father of three. He’s also the only one to question the evidence at first, voting “not guilty” with the intent to examine the facts.

The very little we do know about him doesn’t change the fact that he’s a compelling character. The same can be said for all of the twelve jurors that surround the table. We get just enough out of each and every one of them to understand them emotionally, morally and ethically.

The rest of the weight of the film is maintained by the acting. Each character is contextualized with strong performances by the actors and firm personalities showcased by each of the characters themselves.

I don’t think the film would have been so good without keeping their backstories on a surface level. Part of what makes the conflicts in this movie so interesting, is that for many of them, it’s not a personal conflict. It’s not about grudges, or even about being ‘right’ exactly. To some degree it goes beyond that for all of them.

At only about an hour and a half in run time, this movie isn’t very long. Quite the contrary, it feels just about right. It isn’t too fast, it isn’t too short. While some of the conversations feel contrived or even convoluted at times, that’s precisely the point.

This is one classic film that doesn’t need a re-imagining or a fresh coat of paint. It’s just as wonderful to watch now as the spectacle that it was back in 1957. The fact holds true even to this day that 12 Angry Men holds acclaim for being one of the best court house dramas ever written.

Although I wouldn’t personally call it a drama, I would say it is one of the best movies surrounding the concept of moral high-ground that I have ever seen. I think that says a lot.

It’s also a lot easier to watch emotionally than the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird, and a lot less emotionally contentious too. There’s just not a lot of particular (and trust me, they are particular) slurs thrown around in this film compared to others of its era.

Then again, 12 Angry Men has other ways to get the point across, such as rude tempers, and certain characters sticking their feet into their mouths repeatedly. Lee J. Cobb, who plays Juror 3, does an absolute stellar performance playing the “villain” in this movie… if you could really call anyone a villain at all.

At the end of the day, this is a movie for those who want to see wonderful actors taking their characters to their reasonable conclusions without anything else attached.

The set is minimalist at best, and all we really have to entertain us are the characters themselves. There’s no wider reaching story besides the conjecture of the court case, and the conclusion each man comes to.

Then again, the clear distillation of these characters is all you need. Each of the twelve make up a fully fleshed out ensemble cast, even when the individual alone might lack a detail or two. In my opinion you’re just going to have a hard time finding a tighter fitting narrative and carefully woven script in such a short run time… certainly not with twelve characters to flesh out and puzzle together in the way this film has.

The ending isn’t overly happy or overly sad, it’s just an ending. A final, conclusion, a decision and a parting of ways among these twelve strangers that sat in a court case together. It’s as satisfying an ending as we were ever going to get, and much more satisfying than I thought most would ever realistically hope for.

Truly, this is one film that you have to see to believe. A proper masterwork of the actors and the script, perfectly orchestrated to offer the best performance possible. I really couldn’t ask for more than that.

This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.

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