87 – 12 Angry Men (1957)

Juror #8: The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth. That’s in the Constitution.
Seen before?

R: No.

F: No, it never really appealed to me before.

 

Thoughts?

F: I’ve always been a bit put off watching this film, mainly because I thought the synopsis sounded a bit dull. However I’m glad that doing this list has made me watch it as, of course, it’s not dull at all!

R: Yes the prospect of twelve guys in a room arguing the merits of a court case isn’t the most appealing possible pitch for a film. But even though all the action takes place in a single conference room (and occasionally the adjoining bathroom) it is totally gripping. I think a large part of that is because the film very quickly and skillfully establishes the character of each juror. It’s incredibly efficient at giving you a sense of who these people are, using only a few lines of dialogue each.

F: There is the danger that could have made each character out to be cliched. Whilst there were clear personality traits it kept the right side of that line for me.

R: For sure. There are a couple that are maybe a little cartoonish, but that certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

F: The use of one setting in the film makes it feel quite stagey and I can see how it works well in the theatre. A credit to the director really that only a couple of moments did I feel like I was watching a stage production and not a film.

R: You’re thinking of the scene where one of the jurors goes off on a bigoted rant and the other jurors one-by-one stand up and look away, aren’t you? It is certainly slightly out of place stylistically, as everything up until that point is done in a more realistic way. It was clearly a deliberate choice – presumably it was a feature of how it had been staged previously that they thought was too important to mess with?

F: Yeah I think that’s likely to be the reason. There is also the first scene where the camera doesn’t cut away for about 5 minutes and just follows the jurors around the room and drops in and out of their conversations. Did you notice that? It also feels like the film is in real time even though it isn’t and I think techniques like that help.

R: Yes that early long shot around the room while also “stagey” didn’t seem so out of place to me. I think probably it works because it helps establish the heat and claustrophobia of the the room. Was there anything about the film you didn’t like?

F: Not that I can think of! I don’t think showing any more of the court scenes or even revealing whether the accused is really innocent/guilty would add anything. I even like how the jurors have no names. What about you?

R: The way the last few jurors are won over is a bit rushed for me. Some of them are so deeply entrenched in their positions at the start of the film that it feels implausible that they come round so quickly. The fact the film feels like it’s in real-time probably isn’t helping it there.

F: Yes I think the characters change of heart happens over a longer time period than suggested by the film. I think this is quite an intelligent film and at a time where big budget epics were the order of the day – Ben Hur was just 2 years later – it’s a small, black and white courtroom drama that still manages to be as powerful (if not even more so in a way) as those movies.

R: What struck me watching it was how it’s almost a propaganda piece for American civil and legal institutions. Watching it so soon after Trump won the US presidency, it felt almost like a rebuke to his whole “damn the system” way of campaigning. I couldn’t help thinking he would have found it much harder to gain a foothold if Hollywood still made movies like this!

F: I wonder if modern audiences would take to this if it was released now. Between all the superhero blockbusters and YA franchises it could get lost. Obviously quieter films do get through the cracks – Spotlight this year for example – but I agree that a film like this now would more likely be a exposé into how corrupt and flawed the justice system may be.

R: Yes I fear we are too far gone now and a film like this would seem very quaint, even naive.

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Yes definitely

R: I’d probably put it in a top 200 but for me that slightly rushed final act stops it squeaking into the top 100.

 

 

Up next:
86 – Platoon (1986)
Previously:
88 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)
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