12 Angry Men is a 1957 courtroom drama by Sidney Lumet. The film begins with the end of a trial. The jurors retire to deliberate the case. A preliminary vote is taken and the result is 11:1 in favour of the guilty verdict. Eleven jurors have raised their hands to convict a young man of killing his father. Only Juror 8 has doubts. At first even he does not truly believe the young man to be innocent but notes that the case for the defense might have been presented in a more convincing manner and that the boy might be given the benefit of a doubt. Since the boy is to be executed if found guilty his life is now in the hands of the jury and juror 8 reasons that the least they could do is talk about the case a bit. As time goes on some of the jurors change their minds and find that there is perhaps enough reasonable doubt not to convict the young man after all. But not everyone is easy to convince.
The entire film is shot in one room and with 12 men. But that is more than enough to sweat the viewer out with the jury as the heat rises, literally and metaphorically, among the men as they make their way towards their final verdict. Interestingly, the jurors (apart from two at the end) are never named. They do not need to be. Their characters speak for them. The characters of each of the jurors emerge through a wonderful mix of perfect casting, excellent dialogue and near-flawless acting. The film succeeds in doing something very rare- developing an intelligent plot while also developing 12 believable, memorable and distinct characters. Although it was Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb who really made this film legendary, but every character’s individuality is neatly built.
One another brilliant aspect of this film is its simplistic editing. Sometimes the best editing is to just leave it alone. There is a scene that shows great editing by giving as much screen time to Lee J. Cobb’s monologue. However, the editor also works on the viewers subconscious, by showing him alone and isolated in the frame, whilst showing other juror’s in pairs. The editing also crops closer to him later in the scene, making it seem even more powerful and important. A brilliant piece of neat, simple yet hardcore editing; a magnum opus, indeed!