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12 Angry Men

Directed by Sidney Lumet

USA, 1957

Cornerhouse, 3 March 2013

12 Angry Men

A jury deliberates over the case of a kid accused of killing his father.

Just one man believes he may be innocent, but in the end they all go with a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict.

The film shows that a classic need not be perfect or above reproach, it does though have to possess a vital complexity, a chameleon quality, that makes for a different film each time you view it.

What got my attention this time was Lee J. Cobb’s mighty, mighty performance: a father coming to realise that he’d lost his son, had lost him in fact many years before.  He’s fine, Henry Fonda, and his character seizes and holds the moral high ground throughout, but he doesn’t really change.  He’s a well-meaning liberal, perhaps a little preachy.  While Cobb’s wounded beast changes profoundly.  His heart is broken at the end, and so is yours.

For the rest, you might wonder whether the jury are straying into areas they really ought not to, doing the work the police and defence lawyer should have done.

It is a compelling film, even though it is mostly fellows talking: the many close-ups and inventive variations of the same, the unadorned, cluttered jury room, creates an atmosphere of real tension.  Curiously, the viewing also brought to mind Conspiracy (2001), the film about the Wannsee Conference where Kenneth Branagh played Heydrich: a very different film, you might think, but one with the same engine.  Fellows talking.

12 Angry Men is showing again on Wednesday as part of the Matinee Classics season, further details are here.