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12 Angry Men

They have twelve scraps of paper… twelve chances to kill! 

Year: 1957 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 (Wide) 
Certificate: BBFC U Cert – Universal 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Sidney Lumet 
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam  
An image from 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is Sidney Lumet’s first feature-length film, marking the start of his 50-year-long career as director.

12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama and, except for the opening and final shots, the action takes place entirely in the jury room. Set in a New York courthouse, as customary in the U.S. juridical system, 12 jurors, after witnessing the trial of an 18-year-old boy living in a slum charged with the murder of his father, have to deliberate whether the young man is guilty or not. If found guilty, he will receive a death sentence. The film explores the idea of “reasonable doubt” and how the lack of appropriate consideration of the consequences of one’s choice can compromise the validity of an entire court case. Luckily, in Lumet’s picture, Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) ensures that the consequences of a possible ‘guilty’ verdict are not forgotten: “We're talking about somebody's life here, we can't decide in five minutes.”

The pressure on the jurors grows as time passes and the debate on the kid’s fate heats up, and Boris Kaufman’s cinematography cleverly adapts to the increasing tension in the room. From the wide-angle lenses used at the start, Kaufman progressively changes to lenses with greater focal length, gradually reducing the depth of field to suggest a feeling of claustrophobia.

12 Angry Men, first of Lumet’s many masterpieces, should be a compulsory watch for every member of society, to remind us of the weight of our actions and choices, and to teach us one or two lessons about cinematography and law too.

Marta Meazza

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Screenings of this film:

1979/1980 Spring Term (16mm)
2017/2018 Autumn Term (35mm)