A cut and dry guilty verdict in a Jury-judged murder case is brought into doubt by one lone voice in the shape of a concerned juror. Can he break through the prejudices of the other 11 to force them to take a fresh look at the evidence?
Sidney Lumet's dazzling debut, based on Reginald Rose's teleplay, delivers a masterclass in the pure dynamism of acting, as Henry Fonda's reasonable doubt gradually sways the 11 other jurors from their various prejudices.
Just sit back and lap up a dozen terrific character actors - Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, John Fleder, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, George Voskovec, Robert Webber and the brilliant Fonda - carve up the screen into a dozen perfect pieces.
On paper this courtroom drama had little to get excited about - a one room setting, a dozen old-timers spouting off, a first-time director, a non-event. But on film, 12 Angry Men is transformed into a superlative brew of acting prowess and dynamite direction, and could stand as a screenwriting masterclass in the development of character and plot without resorting to the big stunts, grandiose locations or special effects.
It is actually a jury room thriller, where Fonda's lone hand declares doubt in the surefire guilty verdict of a murder case. As his insidious ability to look at evidence from an alternative, revealing angle gradually begins to swing jurors to his side, it becomes evident that strident opinions have been obscured by a miasma of prejudices and neuroses.
While it can be chided for its lack of realism (Fonda's architect has trhe skills of a detective), this is both a dedeicated suspenser (as the discussion hots up, the men begin to wilt in the humidity) and a deft commentary on the male intractability.
Far-fetchedness aside, not a bum note can be detected. No action, no effects, no wizzy camerawork, just powerful dialogue, finely etched characters and a beautifully worked plot. Food for thought.
Startlingly moving and powerful for a one-room, wordy drama...