12 Angry Men (1957)

12-angry-men

Director: Sidney Lumet Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam

Twelve jurors are tasked with deciding on the case of a young boy who is accused of murdering his father. While eleven are confident of his guilt, one doesn’t think the evidence is enough to convict the boy for sure, and it’s up to him to convince the others.

As I’m gradually ticking off films in IMDb’s top 250, 12 Angry Men was next on my list. I had to build myself up to watch it, because I knew it was one of those films with lots of talking that requires attention throughout- and finally got around to it on a relaxed Sunday evening.

Actually, it turned out not to be as much of a difficult watch as I’d thought. It didn’t feel too long (after all it is only about an hour and a half), and as the jurors changed their mind one by one there were clear pointers to show the plot moving on. With it being a group of twelve middle-aged white men, and the film in black and white, it started off slightly difficult to identify certain characters individually. However as the film progresses each juror shows their particular personalities, and fairly soon I was able to pick out who was still saying guilty or not guilty. The script is obviously split up between twelve different people so each character doesn’t necessarily get many lines, but still the writing allows for their different personalities to come through.

The issue I did have- and this may well be just me- was that once one person picks a hole in the prosecution’s argument, there’s clearly an element of doubt and so they have to go for not guilty. The main character’s points were enough for me to doubt the guilt of the accused, but it took more than that to sway the other jurors. Not having ever been a juror myself, I can’t say how realistic this would be. Having said that, some of the characters (notably the last one to sway to not guilty) had personal reasons for starting off with a guilty verdict, however unreasonable, which adds to the characterisation and so gives the film some depth.

As I say, this is a thinking person’s film and there’s a lot of dialogue, so don’t watch it when you’re tired or looking for something to watch lightly. If you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s easy to follow and enjoyable. Definitely one to watch to examine different characters and how a script can build up characterisation.

4 stars

Nightcrawler (2014)

Ⓒ Bold Films
Ⓒ Bold Films

Director: Dan Gilroy Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

In LA, unemployed loner Lou Bloom finally finds work filming segments for local TV news, and selling them to the news stations- a practice called “nightcrawling”. He earns quite a reputation due to his camera skills and ability to get to the scenes of crime or tragedy before anyone else. One night, he witnesses first-hand a triple murder and is the only one who can identify the perpetrators.

First thing to note, despite the title this is not a superhero film (disappointingly for some, I know). Instead, Nightcrawler is a strange, dark thriller which is really quite sinister at times. Jake Gyllenhaal is great at playing a weirdo, his deadpan lines delivered to a T combined with a rather manic grin. There aren’t many characters and really, once you think about it, the plot is straight-forward and basic. There’s not really a massive climax towards the end: there’s a peak in the plot, but it doesn’t really play out in a hugely dramatic way. I quite liked this aspect, because it made me feel unnerved which in a strange way made the film more enjoyable. Throughout the whole thing, the film just gave off an odd vibe, without anything particularly odd or dramatic actually happening. In a clever, understated way it had me gripped from start to finish, playing on the mildly anxious feeling I had throughout to keep me entertained, rather than a plot filled with action or terror.

There’s no doubt that Nightcrawler is a strange film, and it’s lack of overt action might make some audiences bored. However it’s successful in always moving the plot forwards, and as I said there’s just something about it that doesn’t quite sit right, and makes you intrigued. I’d definitely recommend it for people who like quirky stuff, or who are looking for an alternative to a traditional blockbuster.

4 stars

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Ⓒ Circle of Confusion/Cube Vision/Legendary Pictures
Ⓒ Circle of Confusion/Cube Vision/Legendary Pictures

Director: F. Gary Gray Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge, Paul Giamatti

Straight Outta Compton is the official biopic of legendary hip-hop group N.W.A, named after their ground-breaking debut album. The story begins with the group forming, laying down their early tracks, and finding management, up until the untimely death of founding member Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Mitchell).

I absolutely loved this movie. Firstly, it’s worth noting that I am an N.W.A fan and already knew a fair amount about their back story, so I probably got more out of the film than, say, someone who didn’t know a lot of their music and was just interested in the story. What I appreciated most in the film was the casting: each group member as well as other supporting characters fitted their role perfectly, and the all-important chemistry between the group was spot on and significantly contributed to the believability of the band’s experiences. I really got a sense of who each member was and what kind of role they played in the group, both as musicians and as friends. Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr, played Ice Cube himself, and at certain points it was hard to notice the difference between the two. You can see how choosing the real life son to play the father might be gimmicky, but Jackson Jr was excellent in his debut acting role. I also thought that the story was pretty well balanced- given that both Ice Cube and Dr Dre had a hand in producing the film, there was a risk of a biased point of view, but in fact nobody came out looking perfect nor did anybody come out looking all bad.

Like I mentioned, I think fans of N.W.A will get more out of the film but that’s not to say that it’s not for everyone. The film is, after all, a true life story and covers real issues such as African Americans and police brutality, music industry greed, HIV and AIDS, and importantly life in America’s poor neighbourhoods. The soundtrack is absolutely cracking, of course featuring some of the group’s hits as well as classics from Run-DMC, 2Pac and Wu-Tang Clan, among others. Plus, I loved the cameo-type appearances of other hip-hop artists such as 2Pac, Warren G and Snoop Dogg- the actor of Snoop Dogg was absolutely on point, and had him down right to his accent, mannerisms and walk. I reckon this film is a must-see and many people would enjoy it despite perhaps being put off by the fact it’s about a rap group, due to its portrayal of real issues.

5 stars

Gran Torino (2008)

Ⓒ Matten Productions
Ⓒ Matten Productions

Director: Clint Eastwood Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Christpoher Carley, Anhey Her

Gran Torino is a harrowing drama about a grumpy and bitter Korean War veteran living somewhere near Detroit, Michigan, in a neighbourhood where he is now outnumbered by Korean immigrants. The story follows Walt (Eastwood) after the death of his wife, as he becomes accustomed to living on his own and next door to some very persistent Korean neighbours. As the plot unfolds, he eventually takes Thao (Vang), one of his younger neighbours, under his wing and protects him and his family from local street gangs.

This film is pretty hard-going to watch. It begins with the funeral of Walt’s wife, which pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Walt is not an immediately likeable person and, although his contempt for his irritating grandchildren is totally understandable, he treats people who try to help him or show him kindness rather badly. However, Walt’s next-door-neighbours, partly because of their culture and partly because he accidentally ends up helping them out, are persistent in showing him kindness and as a result Walt softens and starts to get along with them. Ultimately, despite its depressing tone, the film is one about how people’s hearts can be changed by the care and kindness of others. The development of Walt’s character allows us to understand why he is how he is, and we see how in the most unlikely of situations people can always have another chance to make things right- with themselves and those around them. In the end, Walt redeems himself and everyone gets what the deserve.

The cast is pretty much unknown except for Eastwood. Eastwood is his usual brooding self, which although can get tedious (I watched The Man with No Name trilogy in two days and had certainly had enough of him by then end), fits the persona of Walt perfectly. At times there are even fleeting glimpses of some dry humour lurking behind his moody facade. It is filmed in a very appropriate bluefish green filter, which suits the tone of the film. What we see of the run-down, crumbling neighbourhood compared to Walt’s immaculate lawn is a nice touch,  putting us in the shoes of Walt and seeing his surroundings through his eyes.

All in all, this is a great film that manages to make the audience become involved with the characters through its slow-paced but never boring storyline. It takes its time to build up to the final scene, which leaves the audience feeling satisfied and almost relieved. Perhaps not recommended for a light-hearted Saturday night in, but well worth a watch.

5 stars