This review was for an assignment for my Film Studies class. Bear in mind, I wrote this knowing that my professor would read it instead of an audience, so the tenses will be a bit confusing. Also, this review contains SPOILERS for the 1957 film 12 Angry Men, as well as one major spoiler for the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs in the 6th paragraph. I bolded the Silence of the Lambs spoiler, so you can avoid that if you haven’t seen the movie yet (I suggest you do, if you’re over 18 of course). Finally, the phrase I have invented. If you have any questions, post a comment and I will do my best to answer. Alright, enough background, let’s do this!
I have wanted to watch this movie for a long time, and I have good reason: it is the only film I know that has a Certified Fresh 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is ranked #5 on IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of all time, it was nominated for three Oscars, and has influenced filmmakers (and filmmaking) for decades. 12 Angry Men is directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Reginald Rose. Stars-Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, and Ed Begley. Premise-The jury of a murder trial are about to come to a unanimous decision, but one of the jurors says otherwise. Now, he must defend his gut-feeling among a room full of 11 doubters. As he explains his views, more and more of his fellow jurors begin to realize perhaps their decision was the incorrect one.
Honestly, I initially thought this movie was a horror film! Mostly from its poster, which depicts a knife splitting the poster from top to bottom, while the print on the poster said, “Life is in their hands, death is on their minds!” You would not guess the movie was a crime/drama from that! In any case, this movie is extraordinarily well put together! Usually when you see a film (even if it is a great one), there is always that one thing the movie “dropped the ball on” so to speak. Whether it is the screenwriting, camerawork, acting, etc.. However, there are a few films that can easily be considered “perfect”. 12 Angry Men is one of those few.
This is one of the most well-acted films I have ever seen, and the only actor I recognize is Henry Fonda! I did not find one actor who did not completely convince me they were playing a character. Most of the actors in this movie are Oscar winners, and that really shows in this movie. Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, and Jack Warden are all excellent, and I can tell in each scene they were giving it their all. I will continue to praise their performances later.
The most surprising aspect of this movie is how suspenseful and engaging it is, and that would be due to the outstanding screenwriting. This movie has one of the most well-thought-out, engaging, exciting, and thought-provoking script’s I have ever seen! Each scene is oozing with tension and intrigue, and once Fonda’s character begins to explain why he chose “not guilty”, things really pick up! The dialog is written exactly like I would expect these men to react in this given situation, which makes the characters all the more entertaining to watch. The intense atmosphere became all the more realistic and relatable. Along with the exceptional dialog this movie has perfect pacing. The story has many amazing twists, and plot reveals (like the “second knife,” or the “glasses marks”) which keep the story interesting and incredibly investing. This is very impressive because the movie is only 96 minutes long (while most movies nowadays are about two hours long). The progression of each character switching their vote over time is also very well conveyed.
Continuing down the list of positive elements, we find the cinematography and direction. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman uses every angle and height at his disposal (which, considering 90% of the movie takes place in one room is very impressive). Every shot of this movie looks ingeniously picturesque. Of course, Boris would not be able to achieve such shots without the brilliant direction of Sidney Lumet. His use of close-up shots of the actor’s faces is excellent, especially when those shots are utilized when a character reveals a plot point. Another thing I noticed watching this movie was how few cuts there were. Most of the film is just one continuous shot with the camera panning around the room (another camera technique this movie utilizes is the tracking shot, which adds incredible atmosphere). Because the actors are so talented, these scenes do not drag on. The only other movie I can think of that did this same thing, was 2014’s Best Picture winner, Birdman.
The last thing I want to elaborate on is what I like to call “Movie Minutes of Mastery”. This is where a film has a moment or scene where EVERYTHING falls perfectly into place, and usually under 2 minutes. Not many films have one of these, but there are those certain few that managed to craft one of those moments. In Ratatouille, the scene where Remy fixes the soup Linguini ruined is one of those scenes. The animation, sound mixing, camerawork, and music all blended perfectly in less than one minute to create a Movie Minute of Mastery. Another one can be found in The Silence of the Lambs. The scene where Hannibal makes his escape, from the moment the body of the police officer is wheeled into the elevator, to the moment when Hannibal takes off the skin mask in the ambulance is a Movie Minute of Mastery. The frightening imagery, Howard Shore’s suspenseful score, the panicky feeling of “Where is Lector?”, and of course, the mind-blowing twist of Hannibal revealing himself, creates a Movie Minute of Mastery. I am quite pleased to report that 12 Angry Men has one of those scenes as well. Juror #10’s racist rant is that scene. Everything about this scene is masterful. Ed Begley’s impassioned performance, the camera panning slowly away from Juror #10, almost every juror getting up from their chairs and turning their backs to Juror #10 in disgust, and Juror #4’s calm, but forceful reply to Juror #10’s rant. This scene goes down in history (at least I think that it should) as one of the best scenes in cinematic history, period.
What else can I say, this film is a masterpiece! Outstanding acting all-around, an engaging script that remains interesting through multiple plot twists and characters, cinematography and direction which creates an intense close-quarters feeling few other films have achieved, and of course, the Movie Minute of Mastery which holds it all together. 12 Angry Men rightfully receives the highest grade I can give it, an A+.