12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men (1957)

1957 96 Minutes


The defense and the prosecution have rested and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young Spanish-American is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open and...

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: When a piece of art is deemed especially significant, it doesn't automatically mean it's going to be engaging. After all, there are some occasions when I've watched a classic film or listened to a classic album and, even if I can respect its influence or innovation, it may not have particularly spoken to me. But there are also many times when all the praise you hear is earned, and Sidney Lumet's independent debut feature '12 Angry Men,' is definitely one of those cases.

    Adapted by Reginald Rose from his TV screenplay, it follows a jury in a room debating whether an eighteen year-old slum boy should be found guilty and executed for the murder of his father. It's a simple premise, but it unlocks some great tension around the outcome and the group's discussions also raise some fascinating points about morality and justice.

    At first the men seem terribly nonchalant about the whole thing; from the judge who reads out his instructions to the jury like he's half asleep, to the jury proclaiming that they should be able to finish in time for the evening's football game. It's uncomfortable to watch when you know a boy's life is in their hands, and Lumet does a great job of highlighting the potential immorality of that scenario right from the off, particularly as his single shot of the panicked young boy constantly lingers in your mind whilst the men discuss and debate it.

    They think he's guilty to start with, all except for an architect (Henry Fonda) who doubts some of the circumstantial evidence in the prosecution's case and empathises with the boy who had been beaten by his father his whole life. That brings up the difference between what's written in law and what's morally right, and his arguments eventually begin to convince other members of the jury to a not-guilty verdict.

    That comes across especially well because the characters all seem so real; from the shy and conflicted men who are easily swayed, to a couple of angry bigots (Lee J Cobb and Ed Begley) who are slowly deconstructed as sad, traumatised men the more they're challenged. That characterisation works in part thanks to the brilliant performances and the script, but also Lumet's masterful camerawork which uses extremely long takes and lots of close-ups to really get under everyone's skin.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: There are a few occasions when the debates feel like they're repeating themselves, but a development in the conflict is never far around the corner to pull you right back in

    VERDICT: '12 Angry Men,' is one of those classics that truly lives up to its hype. Masterful characters and camerawork bring to life a brilliantly tense and genuinely thought-provoking debate about morality and justice.