In the hands of a talented filmmaker, an excellent, suspenseful story can be told without big car chases or special effects. When top notch actors are given an innovative script with strong dialogue, movie magic can happen. One sub-genre that lends itself to this format is the courtroom drama. An example is yesterday's review: "A Few Good Men." Perhaps the most well-known courtroom drama of all-time is "12 Angry Men," from 1957.
"12 Angry Men" is set mostly in one sparsely furnished room. It begins with 12 male jurors sitting in a jury box, learning from a judge that they must come to unanimous decision on whether an 18-year-old Hispanic youth is guilty of murdering his father. If the jury concludes that he is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," then he will receive the death penalty. Given the overwhelming evidence presented by the prosecution, most of the jurors believe the young man is guilty. Only one of the jurors votes not guilty in the first poll, Juror #8 (played by Henry Fonda), who says the kid may have committed the crime, but feels it is necessary to discuss the case. Initially hostile to this point of view, the remaining jury members slowly begin to revisit the case as it was presented.
"12 Angry Men" has a great screenplay, which was based on a TV play. Many of the jurors are biased because of their own experience and/or prejudice. This leads to a lot of tension between them. Also, at the beginning, the kid's guilt seems obvious, but as they discuss the case, it becomes more and more questionable. The movie showcases the advantages of the jury system as we see how even inflexible people learn how to weigh evidence and engage in a sincere deliberation.
All the actors are perfect. Henry Fonda makes a great hero, who sticks up for the unfortunate defendant, even when the evidence seems to be against him. Lee J. Cobb is equally impressive. He plays Juror #3, who is essentially the villain of the story. Juror #3 says the kid is guilty, even when the evidence starts to suggest he may be innocent.
"12 Angry Men" is a must-see for fans of classic cinema.