How Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film illustrates the value of a superb script.
‘12 Angry Men’ tells the story of a jury deliberating what initially appears to be a clear-cut, black and white case. That is, the seemingly unanimously shared belief of a young man’s guilt in murdering his father. However, as one of the 12 jurors expresses his doubt of this guilt, a gradual succession of clues and discussions leads each of the other 11 jurors to question their judgement concerning the trial, themselves and each other. As an adaptation of a play of the same name from 1954, ‘12 Angry Men’ takes place entirely within the jury room.
I’ve never been a huge fan of action films; action by way of shootouts and car chases. The stakes always feel the same and the outcome always feels pre-determined – the good guys overcome arduous and seemingly unbeatable circumstances to apprehend the bad guy.
‘12 Angry Men’ offers nothing in the way of action, yet it manages to keep you glued to the edge of your seat all the same. It does this through a combination of a fantastic screenplay and brilliant acting, with the two elements combining to illuminate a 90 minute discussion between the 12 jurors as they challenge each other and themselves to try and determine the true facts of the case in question.
This movie manages to not only keep, but captivate the viewer’s attention throughout its runtime, with Lumet delivering perfection in script interpretation, character portrayal and development and direction.
The simplicity here helps to show why the most important part of nearly any good film is its script. Fundamentally, if an audience is offered great characters who engage in even better conversation then that movie already has a solid foundation which can be built on. Here, tension doesn’t emanate from action; but rather, the ideological and personal differences between the characters.
While many modern moviegoers are often put off watching films which precede a certain year (not least ones which aren’t in colour), an exception should absolutely be made here. ‘12 Angry Men’ boasts one of the all-time great screenplays and is one of very few films I can’t pick fault with.
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