On DVD at home with Lucía on 16 May 2009, late at night.
An interesting note: I just got a projector last week so that we could have something to watch movies on in our new apartment. As it turns out, by total coincidence, of the first three movies we watched, the first two had a major actor in common, Michel Simon, and the last two had the cinematographer in common, Boris Kaufman.
12 Angry Men is a high-concept film. The film relies on a lot of stereotypes, and using those, seems to make some pretty strong judgements about its ‘everyman’ characters. The film also becomes increasingly contrived as it progresses, and manages to become fairly ridiculous by the end. Despite all this, however, it’s an excellent film.
The premise of the film is great: An entire jury is convinced that they are dealing with an open-and-shut case of a slum kid that murdered his father, except for on juror who feels that the defendant’s lawyer was fairly incompetent and that there were certain gaps in the evidence set forth by the prosecution. While the rest of the jury impatiently tries to persuade him that, no, it really is an open-and-shut case, they manage to work larger and larger holes into the evidence until more and more jurors become convinced that there is a reasonable doubt. This premise holds a huge amount of potential. We can work through each juror’s personal history and biases and motivations, and we can watch the jurors work through the various facts of the trial that were laid out before the film began.
Almost the entire film takes place within the confines of the deliberation room, with a few side conversations in the very spacious lavatory that adjoins it. We are meant to feel the heat and humidity of that room as the characters, in additional to commenting on it, continually mop their foreheads and carry large sweat stains on their shirts, particularly around their armpits. As the characters become tenser, they become sweatier. They become tenser as they begin to doubt the open-and-shut nature of the case, or in some cases as they amplify their personal biases in their desire to convict the defendant seemingly without regard as to what the evidence really is or even whether he really committed the murder.
Most of the performances are very compelling, despite the caricatured nature of many of the characters. Henry Fonda’s character, unfortunately, seems rather pedantic/didactic, and once his character is finished creating the momentum for the film, he becomes pretty boring to watch. Lee J. Cobb, on the other hand, is for the most part riveting.