Thursday, June 9, 2016

Directorial Debut: Sidney Lumet's 12 ANGRY MEN

Welcome to a new installment of DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, where we look at some of the best, most interesting, and iconic directors and the films that started their careers. This week we take a look at Sidney Lumet's classic, 12 ANGRY MEN.

The late, great Sidney Lumet is one of the best American directors of all time, mostly known for the classics Dog Day Afternoon and Network. Lumet was a master with the camera, starting his career as a director of photography. Known for always getting the best out of his actors, and his incredibly fast work rate, Lumet directed over 40 films in his career that spanned 5 decades. Lumet, sadly passing away in 2011, ended his career with a bang, his final film being the fantastic family drama Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), the first film of his I ever saw, and still one of my favorites. The master started his career though, with an even bigger bang. One of the most renowned and beloved pieces of American cinema, 12 Angry Men.

12 Angry Men was released in 1957, written originally for television by Reginald Rose, and of course directed by Sidney Lumet. The film was made on a tight budget and didn't do to well at the box office, a big reason being the black and white aesthetic of the film, as color was becoming all the rage. The movie finally found an audience on television, and the rest as they say, is history.

An 18 year old Puerto Rican kid is on trial for the murder of his own father. The case has been made, and the jury are sent to deliberate over his guilt, and more importantly, his life, facing the electric chair if convicted. No one is named, but as the film goes on almost every one of the twelve jurors feels more real and developed than many main characters you'll ever see. Every single cast member is absolutely fantastic, from the get-go Lumet was one of the great actor's directors. The jurors have all made up their minds, and are ready to send the accused to his grave without discussing it; with the sole exception of juror 8, played by Henry Fonda. Juror 8 exclaims one of the pillars of the American justice system; reasonable doubt. He doesn't want to send the boy to his death, without at least having a decent discussion about it. What follows is an hour and a half of some of the best dialogue you'll ever see.. well, hear. Juror 8 inspires his fellow angry men to really look at the case critically, and through their discussions we as the audience feel like we know the case as well as they do, without having heard a word of it. Juror 3 is the somewhat antagonist of the film, the man most fervently advocating for a guilty verdict. Played brilliantly by Lee Cobb, who was a whirlwind of anger and emotion. Jack Klugman and George Voskovec were also standouts of the brilliant cast.

One of my favorite things about this movie is Lumet's attention to detail in the camerawork. The early stages of the film are shot with fairly wide lenses showing a lot of distance in the room. As the film goes on though, and as the arguments get more heated, the camera is gradually pulled in closer and closer until almost every shot is a close-up with a lower angle depth of field, really capturing the claustrophobia and intensity of the environment.

12 Angry Men, while not an entirely accurate representation of a jury's deliberation process, is an absolute masterclass in dialogue, raising tension and big performances. The structures and themes from this film have been emulated to no end over the last 50 years, and it has been one of the most studied and influential movies of all time. I was late to the party and only just saw this movie for the first time last week, in beautiful Blu-ray on a 50 inch TV. It was a fantastic experience for a fantastic film. I'd highly encourage anyone reading this to not only watch 12 Angry Men, but watch some of Lumet's other films. They're complex, thematically rich and emotional but never too melodramatic, there will be something to love for everyone.

Next up on my Lumet list is Network, can't wait to see it!

Jacob's Score: 10/10

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