Making the Grades
It's a hot summer day in a downtown courtroom. The jury has just been dismissed to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. Locked in a rectangular room barely larger than the table around which they sit, it appears that a quick verdict will be met -- until one man stands up for justice and the belief that sentencing someone to die should never be a quick decision.
What makes this film so fascinating is watching each of the twelve characters bend the court's evidence through their own prism of experience and belief. With a good script and keen editing, Director William Fredkin turns this talk-heavy movie of a bunch of guys sitting around a table into a personal experience for the viewer, as we appreciate how something as serious as deciding the fate of an accused murderer can be influenced by everything from baseball to prejudice.
Based on two earlier productions in the 1950's (one made for televison, the other for film), this remake of 12 Angry Men presents an even more colorful depiction of the responsibility of jury duty. Colorful, not only because the original film was in black and white, but also because of the inclusion of jurors covering a much wider range of ethnic diversity. These changes in characters, along with a group of powerhouse actors to play them (Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Tony Danza, Edward James Olmos, and others), allow the viewer to intimately know each of these twelve individuals -- an amazing feat considering the size of the cast.
As a reflection of the times the 1957 film with Henry Fonda includes only one profanity but smoking is depicted as common and accepted. The new version has swearing scattered throughout including a sexual expletive, and less discrete bathroom scenes. For me, the latter version has more impact but either way 12 Angry Men is a thinker of a movie that should give teens and parents something to talk about afterwards.