87. 12 Angry Men (1957)

“A dissenting juror in a murder trial slowly manages to convince the others that the case is not as obviously clear as it seemed in court.”

Have you ever just needed to write something so badly because you were so excited about it? Because that is currently me with this film. It’s nearly 2 am and I have to be at work in 8 hours. But, I desperately needed to type up my thoughts on this film, so here I am.

There are a lot of things that I want to say about this film. Where to begin, where to begin?

I suppose that I will start with symbolism, as I could probably write pages and pages on it (I mean, I’ll try not to).

Let’s start with the most obvious bit of symbolism, the heat. It is mentioned several times throughout the film, but mentioned most in the beginning as the jurors walk into the jury room. This heat is a clear symbol of the tensions amongst the jurors that this case brings. It also, physically, symbolizes the panic and stress that the jurors begin to feel inside as their decisions are all brought into question. The lighting helps to emphasize this heat as it is positioned perfectly to show the heat on each person’s forehead. Perspiration is constantly present, whether it’s from the heat or from somebody’s morals being called into question.

Along with the heat comes the symbolism of the weather. When we begin, it is a beautiful bright day outside. Because of the heat and the light coming in through the window, there is no need to turn the light on in the jury room. The jury room is dark. As the day progresses, a storm occurs causing it to become very dark outside. The light is now needed in the room. Light and dark can be interpreted as symbolizing open and closed-mindedness. To emphasize that point, the fan that they have been wondering about the entire film, wondering why it isn’t working, works when the light is turned on because it was attached to the same light switch.

The colors of the juror’s jackets also symbolize open and closed-mindedness. Juror #8 comes into the room and is wearing all white. He is the most open-minded of the group and is the one who initially start the “he may not be guilty” questioning. Everybody else is wearing either black or gray. By the end, the men are carrying their jackets out, not putting them back on.

So, that’s some of my thoughts on the symbolism.

I was repeatedly impressed by the lighting in this film. The room was never very bright (until the light actually gets turned on about half an hour/twenty minutes from the films end). The light that was filling the room was coming from the windows and there was never very much of it. In fact, there was only ever a line of light in the room. And, when you think about the setting of the film (New York City), that makes sense. The light would have been cut off by the skyscrapers. This line of light, however, was always perfectly placed across the eyes of whoever was speaking. Eyes can be really telling in films like this. It’s emotionally charged and actor’s eyes help to show that.

I need to talk about the camera work in this film because it was amazing. Now, it wasn’t amazing in the sense that there were neat camera tricks and camera angles used. In fact, pretty much every camera shot used ranges from medium shots to close-ups. So, it is nothing innovative. It is the way that those shots are used that is amazing. The camera moves effortlessly throughout the room. It goes from giving us, the audience, an overview of the room, to making us feel like we are a juror, giving us that point of view. The use of straight-forward camera shots helped create that feeling that we are just sitting opposite the table from these men, deciding the fate of this 18 year old kid. The use of close-cropped close-ups helps to emphasize that “heat” feeling. It helps to create tension in the viewer, in a way that nothing else really could. In fact, the camera work was so smooth, that I nearly forgot that I was watching a movie that took place completely in one room.

I do not remember the last time that I watched a film where the dialogue seemed so natural, where everything just seemed to flow. This script, along with the camera shots used, created such a sense of realism. Without that sense of realism, I don’t think this film would have had such the impact that it did; that it still does.

The fantastic script is only made better by the actors who are portraying the jurors. Henry Fonda plays Juror #8 and he does a spectacular job, as does every other actor. But, the one worth mentioning the most here, I think is Lee J. Cobb who played Juror #3. Juror #3 is the most closed-minded of them all. He lets his personal life influence his decision making (as do several other jurors). But, it’s the ending to this film, his last several lines and the emotion behind them that really took my breath away. I mean, his performance at the end of this film gave me chills. It was so good.

A person could probably carry on for a very long time about the themes of social responsibility and guilt in this film (guilt being a personal favorite of director Sidney Lumet), but I’m not going to do that. At least not right now. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point, probably upon a rewatch of this film.

I would like it noted that I did not just write about the symbolism and what-not in my notes. Several times I wrote “oh my gosh. I love this film”. I also commented on the fact that, towards the beginning, as there was an argument being made for “not guilty” that two men were playing tic-tac-toe and I wrote very angrily about it in all capital letters. Also mentioned how SUPER racist Juror #10 was (SUPER doesn’t even begin to cover it. Like, oh my gosh), and I also wrote about my love for the music (simple and sets the tone) and for the opening/closing credits and the font they chose and how crisp, clear, and straight to the point it all is. And, when it was all over, after deciding the fate of a man’s life, each juror left the courthouse and went about his way, because life goes on.

On a base level this film is a character study. It’s a character study about men in crisis. And, goddammit, is it a good one.

Grade: A

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