Based on the play by Reginald Rose (who also wrote the screenplay), 12 Angry Men is a brilliant courtroom drama whose strength lies within the power of Rose's words and Sidney Lumet's great direction (his debut).
During the hottest day of the year, a jury made up of 12 men has to decide the fate of a teenage boy who is accused of killing his father. The defendant has everything going against him; two witnesses, a murder weapon, a sloppy public attorney and the fact that he is from a low class ethnic background.
If found guilty, the defendant will be given the death sentence.
All within the jury believe it is an open and shut case with the exception of one (Henry Fonda), who believes that there is much to be discussed and investigated before reaching a decision. This is met with anger by the other jurors as they try to convince him that the defendant is guilty, there own prejudices' and ulterior motives coming out in the open during the process.
Filmed in black and white the majority of the film is shot on one set (the jury room), yet Lumet's great use of light and shadow and close up shots has created a tense drama filled with a gripping atmosphere that does not let up till the end.
The performances are excellent and are delivered by an exceptional cast.
Henry Fonda (who also co-produced the film, an experience he did not care repeating) has a certain seniority which makes the viewer stand up and take notice; whenever he speaks people listen and that is exactly the type of quality his character must possess. That along with an un-wavering moral code in the face of such opposition makes his character one of the most beloved and remembered on screen good guys.
Lee J.Cobb gives one of his best performances as the bitter juror whose relationship with his estranged son influences his decision. Hot tempered when pushed to far, Cobb displays a stunning vulnerability breaking down in front of his fellow jurors when Fonda presses the issue as to why he thinks the defendant is guilty. A similar scene arises with Ed Begley's spectacularly nasty hot tempered racist juror, his bitter, racist rant shot in stark fashion, one of the more powerful scenes in the film.
12 Angry Men directly addresses issues that still affect us today. Racism, class-ism, the fragility of the justice system and how the effects of peer pressure can influence others into going against their conscience and making the wrong decision, the type of pack mentality which is the cause of many of the world's woes.
Unfortunately nothing much has changed, thus making 12 Angry Men a timeless, moving experience.