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12 Angry Men (1957)
An inviting courtroom drama, with the suspense of a thriller.
If you were born in the late 20th century as I, there is a good chance you haven't watched the best court room drama of all time, which I hereby insist that you must. The title alone may not even be known to most people, and that is a shame, because "12 angry men" is a fantastic movie that definitely deserves attention. The movie depicts the ongoing ruling of 12 jurors, eleven of which are convinced that the defendant is guilty, but are all met with the resistance of one juror determined to question what seems so obvious to the others.
The merits of the case, and the movie, are clear. A young man is charged with murdering his father and the evidence against him is compelling. As both sides have given their closing arguments the jury retires to their chambers, and is faced with the decision of condemning a man to capital punishment. As the setting is set for the viewers and the different characters introduced, the actual course of the movie takes place, and it begins with a preliminary vote: Guilty or not guilty. When the tone of agreement has been set, there are 11 votes "guilty" and 1 "not guilty"; and as the 11 rests their eyes upon the one, juror #8, the movie unfolds in a uniquely interesting manner. Juror #8(Henry Fonda) starts off with nothing to validate his position, other than saying that he does not want to sentence a young man to death before at least talking about it. And from that point on, the jurors begin to explore the case's circumstances, all the arguments and testimonies, and one by one starts to rethink their position on the issue.
What makes this so interesting to watch, is that the movie's plot unfolds at the same pace it unfolds for the characters. Apart from what was said during court, no information is held back, which puts the jurors in the same position as the viewers. This allows a deeper involvement in the movie, and creates a feeling that the viewer is uncovering the truth alongside the characters themselves. It almost feels like a detective/criminal investigation movie at times, and even though the movie "suffers" from old age and outdated cinematic effects, the suspense never ceases to exist. The excitement is also strongly affirmed by the growing tension between the jurors, many of which are greatly inconvenienced by their required presence. The feeling of claustrophobia grows larger, and as the persistence of juror #8 starts to affect some of the others, the viewer begins to understand the meaning of the title "12 angry men".
As the title also suggests, the number of key characters is large, especially since they all appear on screen at all times. Despite this the movie never seems to confuse the viewer with a clutter of characters. Instead it constantly complements all of the jurors' presence, and never makes any of them feel expendable. This is achieved by presenting all the characters individually, but in such a seamless way that the viewer hardly notices that it's going on. This is also what helps emphasize the feeling of being on the same pace with the characters. As we learn more about the jurors, so do the jurors themselves. This process takes place throughout the entire movie, constantly evolving every character and makes it more and more clear, as to why everyone stands where they stand.
All of these different things come together and deliver a weirdly subtle yet suspenseful drama, rich on both deep character involvement, and masterful writing. The movie appeals to the our sense of rational thinking, by making the characters question the circumstances of the case, while also making the viewer question them. On top of that "12 angry men" has a wide range of characters, and strikes a near impossible balance, of equalizing the importance of all of them, and thereby justifying their ongoing presence.
This isn't a courtroom drama, this is THE courtroom drama, and it sets the bar of which all other movies within the genre should be judged.