This is a film I heard a lot about in the recent months. I knew it’s a classic and had to pay it a visit sooner or later. A while ago I saw ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (Review Here), ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and just recently ‘Fail Safe’. What stands out there is that the director Sidney Lumet is a master filming in close space situations. Especially in ‘…Orient Express’ and the movie we’re talking about here. His first big screen film.
This movie is about 12 Jury members, stuck in a closed jury room, on the probably hottest day of summer. They must decide whether a young 18 year old puertorican man stabbed his father. In the beginning all of them vote guilty, except for one. He is undecided and wants to talk out the whole case/scenario again. For all the other guys it’s a clear thing. Soon after they discussed some of the facts more members get doubts about all evidence they got and turn to a not guilty vote. The discussion continues and sooner than later creates quite some arguments and tension between the characters.
The plot is very simple. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s more about these 12 completely different characters. The movie tries to show how all the different backgrounds of these characters influence their decision making process. Like everyone else all the guys carry their own baggage of life experiences with them. And the way the actors play these characters is just great. All 12 deliver some great performances and play it all very believable. You have sports guy, the average joe, an architect, an advertising guy, the nerdy/geeky type, the guy who’s always trying to keep everything under control, the quiet guy and the loud, self-righteous guy. Of course there will be conflicts when they start to argument for their standpoints. And that are the moments when the film shows its teeth. It’s just great to watch.
You don’t see the crime happening. They don’t show a thing. It’s all happening in your head while these 12 men are trying to solve the case. They go through all the details and talk it all out. That is how the film is telling you about what happened. And in some moments you’re thinking you’re sitting in that room too! Thinking about what happened with that teenager and why he did what he’s done. Did he do it? Well… we’re not sure. The movie only gives us the facts but doesn’t tell us if he did it or not. And it’s not important. Since it really isn’t about the poor kid. It’s more about the 12 jury members and how they try to explain themselves all the phoney things about that case. How hard it can be to do the right thing, sometimes. And in their case… how thin the line is between saving that kid or becoming murderers themselves by chosing the wrong verdict. It surely isn’t an easy task to be elected as a juror.
Technically it’s a, well… an old movie. It’s black and white and it feels dated. Sure. On the other hand it’s just brilliant storytelling and acting all 96 minutes. All characters a believable and all of them have their own thought out backgrounds. Everything in the movie has a reason to be in it. Right at the beginning is a 7 or 8 minute long scene that introduces all the characters. Without a single cut! It feels so organic how the camera moves from one character to another. As I previously said… like we’re right in that room with them. There is also no music in the movie except for the end. Maybe I overheard it but I can’t remember hearing anything except the conversations between the guys. We also never know what the names of the characters are. It’s all just ‘Juror 1’ to ‘Juror 12’. All in all some interesting and well working decisions in that film.
So, yeah. No question this 1957 film still works after all those years. Even if it’s a little dated now it still works phenomenal. I enjoyed it a lot. A recommendation.