For a movie to be interesting it doesn’t need to have big explosions and impressive set pieces. Sometimes those things help and sometimes it muddles up an otherwise simple, but interesting story. When you take a small idea and execute it precisely it tends to heat up the scrutiny on all those involved with the film. In a smaller scope you naturally focus far more attention on the acting ability in front of the camera, the cinematic aspect of the film becomes much harder to maintain fascination with an audience. However, when a film with a small number of scenes and no action is pulled off with an expert story and an incredibly talented cast, it can almost certainly become more impressive than even the biggest of blockbusters. In the classic film 12 Angry Men, this is exactly what happens. Almost the entire movie takes place in one room in one big scene, and yet I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.
As the title suggests 12 Angry Men focuses on a group of a dozen men, these men don’t know each other, they’re jurors who are there to judge a murder trial. The trial in question regards an 18 year old man who is accused of stabbing his father to death. The way the law is set up means that should the jury find the young man guilty, he will be sentenced to death, no other option is available to him. As the jurors head to the room in which the rest of the film takes place, it becomes apparent that this is almost an open and shut case. When called for a vote there is only one man who votes not guilty. What starts out as an excersize in 11 men attempting to correct one man, turns into a slow war, where juror number 8 (Henry Fonda) attempts to deconstruct the case and clarify a few things that stuck out to him. The room slowly begins to boil as tempers flare on the hottest day of the year, as these 12 men are confined to the room until they can come to a unanimous decision.
The film relies almost entirely on dialogue, and every actor involved knocks it out of the park. It’s as thrilling as any courtroom drama and as suspenseful as any thriller. Juror number 8 begins the film as the only one that seems to realize the gravity of the situation. He starts out wanting to just talk about the case that most have just assumed to be another case of passionate murder in the inner city. The 12 men represent a verity of people groups and personalities, all of whom have opinions on the case at hand.
From a technical standpoint, the film excels in it’s use of camera angels and tone. The movie starts out with camera angles and distances that make the room they enter quite big and roomy. As the story progresses and tempers start to rise and the temperature gets worse, the camera squeezes in close and closer, making the whole visual experience feel claustrophobic, a fitting emotional reaction for how the plot plays out. This movie really is a classic for good reason, it’s a near perfect drama. As the judge monotonously describes how the young man will be put to death if he is found guilty, you can hear the boredom in his voice. The case is about someone that no one cares about, but someone that deserves a fair chance, and juror number 8 intends to give it to him.