1001 Films – 12 Angry Men (1957)

12 angry menA jury holdout attempts to prevent a miscarriage of justice by forcing his colleagues to reconsider the evidence.

Brief thoughts

Before: I don’t recognise the title and I’m not convinced that I’ve ever heard of this film before so it’ll be an interesting start to this project
After: Damn I really enjoyed that. If the theatre show was on near by I would definitely try to see it.

Idea

This is a really solid idea and I wasn’t surprised to discover that this film is based off a play with the same title. The whole film takes place in the same room (plus bathroom) with a preface of the courtroom and an epilogue of the jurers leaving. It’s a really simple set and doesn’t rely on any film trickery. No one is allowed to know what happens inside the jury room, the decision and how they come to it can only be known by the 12 white men inside it; its a trial in the 50s frankly the fact that a black teen is getting a trial is impressive. But I could see this being remade now with people of all ages, sexes and colour.

Plot

The plot is a simple one. Just one extra long scene and conversation about if an 18 year old boy is guilty of murdering his father. When they get into the room its an 11-1 vote guilty and the final vote is simply not sure and wants to discuss it further and go over the evidence. As the discussion grows all of the evidence that made everyone so certain of the boy’s guilt is brought into doubt.
What I really enjoyed is at no point do they say the boy is definitely innocent of the crime, they never say that he didn’t kill his father just that they have reasonable doubt on the evidence presented to them. They constantly repeat that they might be letting a guilty man free but the law demands them to have no reasonable doubt and as they talk the doubt starts to creep in, would the man really have heard it? Could he have got to the door in time? Why did the boy go back? Could you see it through the window AND an empty train going past?
The genius of the plot lies in it’s simplicity and the fact that it never lets up, and how quickly each of them become detectives and fight against their own biases/prejudices as the suspect is a black boy on trial who comes from the slums.

Music

There isn’t much music for the duration of the film, most of the background sound is the rain outside. The only point of music I noticed was the suggestion of a second secret ballot, at that point it was quite sterling music as though he was being a hero for suggesting a vote that he didn’t take part in but would agree with if it was still 11 guilty votes.
Apart from that there was only music at the very beginning and at the end, both had credits over at least part of it.
It’s weird, I know film soundtracks now days are massive industries – the Lord of the Rings Soundtrack is a work of art – but I hadn’t noticed just how used I am to having music all the time. I’d already decided to mention music in this review so I was planning on keeping an ear out for it – did it make me empathise, feel, lead me up to danger etc. But there wasn’t any apart from that one moment. Not only does that show how society and the industry has changed but it gave that moment even more power. Because it went from silence/sounds of 12 people in a room with rain outside, to this extra layer.
So the music was really powerful because it really emphasised that moment. But I wouldn’t buy the soundtrack, hearing rain on the windows is free!

Characters

As this film is light on plot and is completely character driven this whole thing stands and falls on the strength of the 12 jurors, and we only learn the names of two of them right at the very end otherwise they are just known by their juror number. Not knowing any of them by name makes it more intimate because they aren’t hiding behind anything, you learn what a number of them do for a job but even then most of them are anonymous.
Each of the 12 come to their decision on the verdict for different reasons, all the small things adding up to enough doubt that they cannot confidently say guilty and put a man to death.
The best character part is when one of the older men goes on a racist rant about how “you can’t trust any of those kind of folks”, ‘I’m the first to say they’re not all like that, I know a few good ones myself”, “they just treat life different to what we do”. Frankly I’m amazed that there was only one racist in the 12, after all this is a bunch of white men in the 50’s. And yet, while he’s on this rant the other men all slowly leave the table and turn their back to him until finally someone tells him to “sit down [in the corner] and keep his mouth shut.” That one rant lost him his right to be listened to and the reaction to it is why he changes his vote. It’s made in the 50’s so no one calls him out on his racism but they do remind him that they are there to judge without prejudice and that “prejudice obscures the truth”.

 

Awards

BAFTAS: Winner – Best Foreign Actor (Henry Fonda). Nominee – Best foreign film
Oscars: Nominee – Best picture, best director, best writing (screenplay based on a story line from a different medium)
Golden Globes: Nominee – Best motion picture, best actor, best supporting actor, best director.

Did I enjoy it? Due to the format of the film being all about the conversation between the 12 jurors I was able to look away from the screen a few times but it kept my attention all of the way through.
Am I glad I watched it? Yes.
Would I watch again? Quite possibly, I’d be interested to see it on stage.
Would I have watched it if not for this challenge? No, and I would have been missing out on an excellent piece of theatre.

My worry about doing something like this is I know I’m going to hit films that I don’t like, that I don’t feel belong on the list, or that people only watch to sound smart and to look down on people like me who like Marvel (Scorsese I’m looking directly at you).
But I’ve started off on a really good note, which fills me with confidence about the future. Because the point of this project isn’t to watch the be all and end all list of all the good films in the history of cinema. The point is to watch things I wouldn’t have done otherwise and that I might enjoy. And if I don’t like them at least that’s coming from a place of knowledge.

I’m bound to play with the format of my film reviews a few times until I hit something I like, but this seems like a good starting place. As I’m sure you can tell film reviews aren’t my strong point but when I started this blog book reviews weren’t really my strong point either
The summery line is taken from imdb as is the information about the awards

Rea

 

One thought on “1001 Films – 12 Angry Men (1957)

  1. I really enjoyed this review.
    Its clearly structured and contains every bit of information you could possibly want.
    Nicely done 🙂

    Like

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