12 Angry Men is an American drama film released in 1957 adapted after a homonymous teleplay written by Reginald Rose. The film was directed by Sidney Lumet and it has three nominations at that year’s Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay. Unfortunately for its makers, the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was released that same year and snatched all the awards. However, it was awarded the Golden Bear at the 7th Berlin International Film Festival.
12 Angry Men tells the story of twelve men on jury duty in a very complicated case; they must deliberate whether the accused is guilty or innocent based on lack of sufficient evidence and reasonable doubt. The reasonable doubt act states that everyone is innocent until proved guilty. The film’s conflict stems from the fact that a jury’s decision and verdict must be unanimous; the accused, an 18- year-old Puerto Rican boy from New York is tried for the alleged stabbing and murder of his father. As a result of the trial and evidence brought, all jurors believe him to be guilty, with the exception of Juror 8, here interpreted by Henry Fonda. He is not convinced by the accusation and opposes to the guilty verdict.
The film, shot in stage theatre style, with all the action happening in a single set – the room where jurors debate – is famous for its dialogue-driven storyline. Henry Fonda steals the show of course, as we follow him trying to convince the others of the boy’s innocence, or at least his right to reasonable doubt. Slowly, one by one, the jurors seem to be convinced by Juror 8’s plea. 12 Angry Men is a great dramatic film, exploring inter-personal relationships, and the difficulty of reaching a consensus when those in question are all men with strong personalities and opinions.
In an attempt to bring the characters closer to the viewer and making them more relatable, no names are ever mentioned, with the exception of two jurors who exchange names. 12 Angry Men was deemed national patrimony by the United States National Film Registry and it was chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress. However at the time of its release and in spite of critical acclaim, the movie was a financial disaster. Besides the original teleplay, another remake of the film was made for television in 1997, starring Jack Lemmon as Juror 8 with other jurors interpreted by James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Edward James Olmos and others.