Watching Resolution: 12 Angry Men (1957)

2. A black and white film: 12 Angry Men (1957)

List Progress: 8/12

I will admit that I have a fair amount of trepidation regarding “classics”, in both film and literature. You often run into this idea that enjoying a classic is the correct reaction, with any other reaction being incorrect. And often, I just don’t think classics live up to the hype; they are important for their impact on the history of the medium, but lacking as content on their own.

The 1957 courtroom drama 12 Angry Men deserves every bit of esteem and recognition that it gets and absolutely lives up to its reputation. This film is beautiful. It excels in writing, acting, directing, cinematography, even costuming, and I was riveted while watching it. This is a marvel of a film.

Directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Henry Fonda, 12 Angry Men takes place entirely inside a jury deliberation room, save for 3 minutes out of the 96 minute run time. Twelve men, known only by their juror numbers, are deciding the outcome of a murder trial that the audience has not seen. It’s an incredibly elegant premise, with Fonda’s character, Juror #8, voting not-guilty in the face of eleven guilty votes and trying to get the other men to genuinely examine the evidence and the nature of reasonable doubt. Despite introducing twelve characters all at once, the film makes sure that you know each of them as people, flawed people trying their best to do what they think is right.

This is a master class in the “bottle episode” format. There is nowhere for a writer or actor to hide in a bottle episode, no action or adventure to distract from weak characters. 12 Angry Men puts these twelve characters under a microscope and does not look away until they have been cut open and exposed in depth. I have to keep coming back to it: this film is beautiful.

Watching this film with my roommate, a non-profit attorney, was especially powerful. The legal specifics of the film don’t hold up to scrutiny at all; jurors are not allowed to do nearly as much as Juror #8 does. But the central ideas, that all people are deserving of a fair and thorough trial and that care and consideration must be taken when dealing with the fate of human lives, are at the heart of everything my friend does. At the heart of what all people should do. Juror #7 wants to hurry the deliberation along because he has tickets to a baseball game. But he, the jury, the audience, and humankind, must take the time to listen, talk and think when human lives are on the line. The world would be a lot better if we all did.

Would I Recommend it: Absolutely.

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