12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men ★★★★

It is understable why this film is consistently present on so many top lists, as it checks most of the standard great filmmaking boxes that are more or less universally agreed upon as important. It's by no means one of my top tier favorite films, but if any film can be called objectively well made, this certainly belongs in that grouping, and I understand the widespread plaudits. The pacing and rapid fire dialogue with very little wasted or unnecessary script, despite the movie being dominated by dialogue, is executed in such a way that you could call this a true masterclass of scripting, direction and acting. I'm not huge on "play style" movies as a general rule, but the refreshing energy and conviction of the performances across the ensemble cast make for a pretty effortless and immersive watch.

This film is about 12 jurors deliberating over a murder charge. At the start, most of the group is ready to rule guilty after a trial with pretty stacked evidence. A holdout juror immediately calls for discussion and the possibility of reasonable doubt, which would eliminate a death penalty convinction.

One thing I find especially interesting about the guilty vs innocent debate discourse here is that we see more movement out of the range of the more "moderate to neutral to slighty-guilt favoring" jurors over into the side of reasonable doubt/not guilty coming out of disgust for the behavior and logic of a couple of the more aggressive right-wing characters than out of any actual new piece of legal evidence. This is, for better or worse, an interesting human dynamic regarding human extremism and the reaction to that mindset that pretty much supercedes legally relevant and detailed thought. Now, the crime elements are certainly discussed within the jury, and opinions about reasonable doubt develop and change to varying degrees throughout the group, but the catalyst for movement away from pro-guilty seems to often be disgust at the approach of the loudest pro-guilty voices in the room. It must be remembered that the actual trial played out in a manner as to likely ensure a guilty decision based on the evidence provided and that this film is less about the workings of the court trial system and more about human bias, understanding and other similar dynamics. The irony of the aggressively hateful voices loudly undoing what was once in their favor is pretty sweet to witness as a compassionate viewer, although it does kind of defeat the purpose of a jury's intention. My favorite part of the film was the group response to Ed Begley's pigheaded MAGA style rant. Epic.

Some will call this 100% perfect as it is, and I wouldn't fault anyone that opinion. It's definitely an important and high achievement film with strong entertainment value, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel that certain choices could have helped it even more. Personally, I think it was a missed opportunity in character perspective to completely leave any kind of variety of gender or race out of the jury selection and to only very slightly vary the age of the jurors, especially since they played pretty deeply into the idea of anti-immigrant bias with a couple of the more conservative jurors. Even in the 50's, this would have been a possible adjustment. That said, they still did a pretty good job of balancing rational and irrational character types on both sides of the debate once the film got rolling. I'm especially thankful for the presence of E.G. Marshall's juror #4 as a likably rational and intelligent mouthpiece for the guilty side, which otherwise contained more than its fair share of brutish and bigoted morons. Most importantly, almost every character saw some level of development arising out of different motivations, which makes for an involving watch in a low-action movie.

Kudos to Fonda's juror #8. The world could stand to stop, take a breath, raise our hands together, and utilize rational discussion for so many reasons and instances. Elderly juror #9 was the film's secret weapon, and I loved Lumet's full-frame facial zooms utilized whenever #9 jumped into the conversation with a revelation. It's such a clever way to give a grand attention swing to a character who would otherwise seem maybe frail and unassuming. Riveting stuff... and surely a film that has potential to gain even more rating points for me on eventual rewatch.

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