“Life is in their hands and death is in their minds”. Thus states a poster of the film I was recommended to watch by my movie-maniac friend. I heard it’s a black and white movie and had been shot entirely inside one room. Well, quite out of the way right, so I decided to give it a try and thus went on for the one hour thirty six minute ride. At the end of it I was left with questions like how come I missed this movie all these years and why hadn’t I heard of Henry Fonda before.
12 angry men starts with a worm’s eye view shot of the United States courthouse, giving us a false sense that it is going to deal with law related subjects. We are then taken to a courtroom where the fate of a boy who had allegedly killed his father is been given to the hands of a jury, consisting of only men. Among these men is one juror, Henry Fonda. The jury retires to their room and we are shown that the weather is very hot and that the only fan in the room is out of order. These may preliminarily seem to be insignificant observations, but as the movie progresses we understand that they play an important role in mentally aggravating the already chaotic situation and provoking heated conversations. While all men are convinced that the boy is guilty of murder charge it is Fonda who opposes them single-handedly saying he doesn’t know if the boy is guilty or otherwise but that it is their responsibility to give him a fair discussion and enough thought before coming to an unanimous verdict. Thus begins a series of heated discussions sprinkled with slapstick comedy here and there without meaning to destroy the crux of the plot. Also beautifully shown is the mental instability of the jurors as new interpretations are drawn from already presented facts. They are equally spaced for them to sink in the minds of the audience and the changing mindset of the jurors is well synchronized with that of the audience. After all, what is a film if you can’t relate yourself to it?
Coming to the technical aspects of the film, my first appreciation goes to the cinematographer. I am sure he would have had a tough time setting up the frame and composition for each and every shot in a small room filled with 12 men and a couple of light sources. Even though the screenplay cannot be altered much from its linear course, the writers have amazingly built it to suit the mood of both the jurors and the surrounding. The direction unit is effective as can be seen from the coordination of the twelve men, though I wonder how many takes the director would have gone for before approving a shot. The music drawn suits the mood well, we are tensed and surprised when and where we are supposed to be (a special mention goes to a piece made of violin which comes as an emotional supplement when the boy in question is shown).
When the English department of my college decided to screen the film I was more than happy to take the ride a second time. In all, the film is a must-watch and certainly deserves critical appreciation.