No Doubts, it's a Great Movie
Some of my favourite movies are those which can be defined as courtroom dramas, the powerful to and thro between lawyers as they try to outwit each other whilst pulling apart each other's case. There have been some terrific courtroom drama's over the years with "Anatomy of a Murder" being one of the best when it comes to lawyers outwitting each other in the courtroom. But then there is "12 Angry Men" and whilst you would put it in the group with other courtroom dramas it is different because this is the drama of 12 jurors deciding on a verdict. Locked in a small room on a hot airless day of a case with eleven of them see as being clear cut guilty except for one man who not necessarily thinks a boy charged of murder is not guilty but believes there is reasonable doubt. It is tense, powerful, explosive, dramatic; quite simply it is stunning so stunning that when it comes to the end you want it to continue, you want it to never end.
A young Spanish-American is on trial for the murder of his father and as the jury of twelve men retire to decide on a verdict it seems a very obvious case that he is guilty. Except Juror 8 (Henry Fonda - Fort Apache) believes there is holes in the evidence and that there is reasonable doubt making him the only one who votes not guilty much to the anger of the other jurors. Forced into a discussion as a unanimous verdict is required tempers rise as does the temperature as Juror 8 tries to show the flaws in the prosecutions case and in doing so showing reasonable doubt.
Now "12 Angry Men" is a simple movie we basically have the 12 jurors retiring to a locked room to decide on a verdict, but because they need a unanimous verdict and Juror 8 votes not guilty they have to work through the case. What follows is Juror 8 slowly convincing the other juror's that there is reasonable doubt that the young man on trial did not murder his father. He puts forwards what he sees as issues with the evidence and as one juror changes their vote from Guilty to Not Guilty it leads to another one beginning to doubt that it is such a clear cut case.
So what that means is that you do have that traditional element of a courtroom drama with Juror 8 basically playing part of a defence lawyer dissecting the evidence whilst those who strongly believe the man is guilty try to prove otherwise. We get the shouting and arguments which you would expect to happen in a courtroom except this is in a small locked room with each man at some time having to play judge to try and stop tempers boiling over into becoming physical.
But there is more to "12 Angry Men" than just Juror 8 proving that there is reasonable doubt because this is a movie of atmosphere. The majority of the movie takes place in one small room, locked so that no one can interfere and the room feels like it is getting smaller and smaller as the temperature rises and the debate gets heated. It is also a hot, airless day which contributes to the tense atmosphere, sweaty and dirty as the heated discussion often edges closer to becoming physical altercations. Director Sidney Lumet masterfully uses this confined space to build so much atmosphere so when all of a sudden a storm comes it calms things down in tune with the number of jurors who change their opinion.
Yet whilst Lumet creates this atmosphere "12 Angry Men" is about those 12 men and their diverse opinions and characters. Now you have the voice of reason, the man in the white suit Henry Fonda as Juror 8 who believes there is reasonable doubt and is calm and confident enough to fight his corner against the 11 other characters. And these 11 other characters includes Juror 10, Ed Begley, who is a blatant racist believing that all those who are raised in slums are bad, Juror 7, Jack Warden, a smart ass who doesn't care whether the young man is guilty or not he just wants to get to the ball game. And I could go on because we have 12 men all with different characters, different backgrounds, different strengths and beliefs which makes the arguments and debate electric as there is shouting and bullying.
But in reality "12 Angry Men" relies on 4 performances the calmness of Fonda, the racist prejudice of Begley, the personal issues of Cobb and the arrogance of Marshall. It is the juror's which these 4 men play that have the strongest opinions, who are vocal and in some cases volatile and you sort of know that whilst Fonda's Juror 8 will show reasonable doubt to the other jurors it is these 3 men who are so stuck in their way that persuading them will be the hardest job.
What this all boils down to is that "12 Angry Men" is a fantastic movie, right up there with "Anatomy of a Murder" when it comes to being a truly great courtroom drama. It is so tense and explosive that it grabs you early on and keeps you glued to the heated debate right up until the credits role leaving you wanting it to never end. It is in many ways not only a master class in directing, ironic when you consider this was Sidney Lumet's first movie, but also a master class in acting from 12 men all of which deliver thrilling performances.