Thursday, September 23, 2010

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is the best movie I've seen since I've started this "best movies I haven't seen yet" thing, and one of the best ever. It's exciting and dramatic and mysterious and powerful, and it's all of these things within the confines of a single room, excepting a brief scene at the beginning, end, and in the middle. You'd think such a limited space would work against a movie, but it's actually one of the film's greatest strengths. By limiting the action to a single set, it requires it to be carried well by the director and cast, led by Henry Fonda. Well Sidney Lumet is one of the great living directors, and pretty much every actor does a great job with what they're given.

Obviously it's a remnant from the original play script by whoever wrote it, but it's just amazing to me how well defined the characters are. They don't have names, and only most of them are even identified by occupation. They have a number, and a seat around the table. But they're all memorable. Their personalities aren't defined by them talking about themselves, or being seen doing anything in particular - it's just the way they go about arguing their side of the case that gives you everything you need to know. There is literally only one character in the room that I didn't think was drawn as well as the others. They're all distinct, have beliefs and convictions, and play against each other like real people. Just a triumph of writing and acting.

And Sidney Lumet's filming of it all really draws you in. The thing about the movie originally being a play is that it doesn't feel like it, even though it's in one room. I can't imagine it being as interesting just watching twelve guys sitting around a table up on a stage. The camera starts up high as you get a feel for the situation, and as tensions rise and squabbles emerge, it draws in closer and closer, making you feel trapped in the room like they are bringing the suspense to near-unbearable levels. And there's just so many moments in this thing, of genius twists and reveals that make the deliberations of a jury many times more fascinating than you'd ever think they would be. I don't want to go on about it too much, but it's a brilliant movie, probably one of the last great ones in black and white, and should be seen by anyone.

No comments: