12 Angry Men: A Masterpiece

12 Angry Men is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s a movie that every young person alive today should see. It helps the viewer develop an appreciation for what makes a truly great classic movie work.

Synopsis

A jury deliberates the fate of a young teenager from the slums of the city who is charged with murder. In the beginning, the entire jury is ready to hand out a verdict of guilty, thereby condemning the teenager to the death penalty.

Henry Fonda is the only one among the jury not completely convinced of the kid’s guilt. He stands up as the only man willing to challenge the evidence raised against the teenager, and investigates whether there is sufficient reasonable doubt to acquit him. This infuriates the rest of the jury members as they were ready to convict the boy and call it a day. Fonda winds up being in the center of an all-out shouting match between jury members who think the teenager is guilty and members who are willing to hear more evidence.

The members continue to go back and forth in a dramatic display of emotion as the boy’s fate is deliberated. Several of the men change sides of the argument several times and a couple of them remain immovable on the fact of the boy’s guilt.

As you can see by the knife, things got a little out of hand

We find that the stubborn members are immovable because of preconceptions they hold towards people from the slums and people of a certain ethnicity (although the boy’s ethnicity is not clear, it is apparent he is a minority.) They feel the boy is guilty simply because of his race and upbringing and refer to him and other as “those people.” Many insults and hard words are directed at Fonda because he challenges these preconceived notions.

"Go back out there, look at the kid's murdering face and tell me he's not guilty!"

By the end, the jury is convinced there is not enough evidence to convict the teenager, and they drop their preconceived notions to hand down a fair verdict of not guilty.

Why it’s amazing

The movie was based on a well-received play by Reginald Rose. Some of the best movies ever are based on successful plays because plays rely heavily on expert dialogue and a compelling plot. Every actor in the movie gave a stellar performance, and we as the audience feel every emotion they convey. The anger is pure and the sadness is raw. The movie kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

It’s becoming seemingly rarer these days to find a movie with compelling dialogue. Special effects largely fill the hole once filled by a well-crafted story and dialogue. I know I sound like an old geezer when I say this, but I wish we could return to the grand old days of cinema, when directors didn’t have to rely on sex and explosions to drive an audience. They had to work for it.

Film critic Roger Ebert says the audience feels like they are a part of the drama in the jury room. He says the book Making Movies details how the director used camera techniques to draw people in. The camera films from above eye level at the beginning of the movie, to eye level in the middle, to below eye level at the end. This creates a feeling of claustrophobia for the audience as the plot comes to a head.

These elements help 12 Angry Men stand out as a true classic that didn’t have the luxury of special effects to add emphasis. The IT Expert gives us a short history on special effects and where they’ve come from. What are some great modern movies that don’t rely on special effects?

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