Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley
Runtime: 92 mins
It is only in the closing lines of Twelve Angry Men that the name of the lead protagonist is disclosed. As a proponent of justice and reason, Mr Davis (an outstanding Henry Fonda), is more an allegorical figure than an individual; in this brief exchange, as two men part ways to resume their everyday lives, Mr Davis, or Juror #8, is as enigmatic as ever.
The premise of the film is simple. A jury retires to consider the verdict of a seemingly open-and-shut case in which a young Puerto Rican faces the death penalty for the murder of his father. A unanimous decision is required and with eleven to one in favour of a guilty verdict, one juror challenges this overwhelming majority, and urges his fellows to reconsider.
Twelve Angry Men may focus on the inadequacies of the legal system, but ultimately it is a celebration of logic, reason and democracy. This is a film which does not depend upon on the usual plot devices to keep the audience entertained, instead relying on strong performances and a powerful script.
Based on a play by Reginald Rose, its theatrical roots are evident in the modest sets, small cast, and focus on dialogue over action. For all of the simplicity however, this claustrophobic environment provides a subtle examination of the personal dynamics between the jurors in this predicament.
Following the heated debate and tumult of the preceding ninety minutes, the polite nature of the final exchange between Davis and McCardle highlights the manufactured, clinical aspect of jury service. These men serve as a skewed cross-section of society, granted the power to determine the fate of a young boy. This is a pared down, engrossing piece of progressive cinema, and its continued importance in popular culture attests to the accomplished and innovative nature of its production.