Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam…
Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is one of the most enjoyable film-watching experiences I have ever had. This is peak Lumet – technical film-making skills and remarkable acting performances. The film is set around the table of a 12-man jury that deliberates on the fate of a young man accused of murder.
At the start of the film the camera is positioned above the men at the table, forcing the viewer to look down on the jury. As the film progresses, the camera moves down to the level of the actors, making the actors address the audience on the same level. By decision time, and the end of the film, camera and audience are below the jury looking up. Henry Fonda’s persuasion of Lee J. Cobb out of a miscarriage of justice is made all the important with Lumet’s direction. Focal length manipulation is also used so effectively to increase the sense of claustrophobia that you’d need a chainsaw to cut through the tension. The sweat on Fonda and company’s heads practically oozes through the screen.
12 Angry Men is the precursor to tense, claustrophobic, close-shot films like Glengarry Glen Ross, another classic driven by strong performance. Technically perfect and immensely entertaining, 12 Angry Men is an all-time classic which hasn’t aged.
Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock doesn’t feel the same: “12 Angry Men is preposterous, Kenneth. 11 decent Americans are getting swayed by Jane Fonda’s father?”