By Craig Singleton (Wigan, England)
The drama just doesn’t take place in the court room as demonstrated in the theatrical adaptation of a teleplay. A young man is on trial for the murder of his father. The court scenes aren’t shown, instead the film begins in a private room where the jury get together to decide their verdict. None of their names are exchanged, instead they call each other by a number. Eleven men say “guilty” whose verdicts are driven by racial prejudice and a relatively good witness statement. One of the men however, Juror 8 says “not guilty”. This juror is played by Henry Fonda.
The best thing about his vote is that he doesn’t decide his vote because he thinks the boy is neither guilty nor not guilty, he just “doesn’t know” in his own words. He feels too much at stake to just send a boy to prison so he pleads with the other men to take some time to think about it and carefully look at the evidence in all its angles. The eleven men are not keen as they just want to go home. Also the humidity in the room is almost overwhelming. Wearing shirts and pants, some of the men are agitated and in discomfort by this heat which makes them aggressive towards Fonda’s character.
All the men in a quite hostile way almost interrogate Juror 8 to why he believes that his vote is what he wants to hold. Here’s where the film goes into the zone so to speak. Juror 8 builds his case to support the young man on trial in hopes to gather enough evidence himself to persuade the other jurors to change their views.
This is one of the greatest scripts written by Reginald Rose in the history of cinema in my opinion capturing what aspiring screenwriters should try to take on. Write a full-length feature script that’s only set in one place. I can imagine how difficult that could be and it’s something that I’ve never tried. The results would be completely different and ineffective compared to this film directed by Hollywood legend Sidney Lumet. British film The Exam set in one room did its best job to do the extremely hard task of keeping the viewer entertained and engaged in the story. 12 Angry Men is in a league of its own.
Each member of the jury has their own personality and moral beliefs. One of the men is a bully, trying to keep the men with their guilty vote just so it will suit him. The room is small, often no room to move around in without bumping into someone on a hot, sunny day so the characters are almost seen as feeling claustrophobic. The camerawork within the film tries to relieve that tension for the viewer.
The camera constantly focuses on the different men throughout and creates the much needed close-ups to increase the tension when emotions run high. The end result is the near perfectly paced film that can invite the viewer to be the 13th person to think about how they would place their verdict given that they were in this situation.
My score for the film 94%. Lowest mark for soundtrack, highest for writing. Incredibly strong characters in which the film almost a hundred percent relies on. It marks on an experience that is very impact-full, makes the mind think and is currently in my top ten list films of all time. This classic crime drama should be one to watch before you die. A bit strong, but just give it a go.