12 Angry Men ★★★★★

How do you ever begin to top a directorial debut such as this? Well Sidney Lumet certainly gave it is best shot over the years that followed creating an enviable filmography packed with cinematic gems. That he can turn a simplistic set-up of twelve men stuck together in a steaming hot room, into such a in-depth social, intellectual and thrilling 90 minutes speaks volumes for the man.

What does remain a mystery is how the creator of the screenplay Reginald Rose never even came close to this sort of standard again. His next project was 1957's Dino and then it was mostly back to the food and drink of TV scripts for the rest of his career. Whilst Lumet deserves the credit he receives for the film, it is the script that provides the ammunition for such compelling performances by the cast.

A group of men can be reinterpreted into a bunch of silly boys at the best of times, falling into a pecking order through will, personality and juvenile bullying. The peer pressure in this condensed courthouse room traps together the ego's and moral baggage from their personal lives, already convinced of the verdict.

We never get to find out what really happened in that apartment, whether the boy actually killed his father or if it was simply a case of mistaken identity. That isn't the central concern of the film. 12 Angry Men is about the legal system, how nothing other than absolute certainty can send a man to his death. Right and wrong. Beyond reasonable doubt.

To not pass judgement on someone can be hard thing to do, first impressions associate themselves with our personal experiences, information we have acquired over time. We summarise what we think we know about someone in a matter of minutes, sometimes even seconds. The film questions our social responsibilities, the fairness we sometimes refuse to extend to others even in life and death situations such as this.

With such a small space to work with the use of the camera in the room is nothing short of amazing. It avoids the most obvious choices such as head-on monologues as each man says their piece, making us feel like an observer to the ongoing discussion in the room. Somehow the room never feels too overbearing due to the use of angles that let the men breathe where they can in the thick air.

There are times when a play is transferred to the screen and never quite manages to escape the idea it should remain on stage. 12 Angry Men never once encounters that problem, seeming for all the world as if it was meant for the film hall of fame status it has since achieved.

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