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

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The Third Man (1949)

Third Man

Director: Carol Reed Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee

A man travels to post-war Vienna to visit an old friend, whom upon arrival he discovers to be dead. However, after a little digging the man thinks there’s more to his friend’s death than meets the eye. A classic film-noir thriller.

The Third Man is a great film to watch from a cinematographic point of view. The film has a really eerie and haunting feel due to the debris all across post-war Vienna, which is accentuated by the black and white shadows. The film certainly wouldn’t have the same impact if it were filmed in colour, especially the moment when we first see Orson Welles’ character, which is made hugely dramatic by the use of darkness to hide his face followed by light for the big reveal. The shadow make the buildings appear grand and looming, which makes the famous chase scene towards the end feel suitably disorientating.

In terms of plot, it’s a good story and I like the characters being morally ambiguous. However, I did figure out the plot almost immediately- even my mum worked it out, and that is saying something. I think this detracted away a little from the “thrilling” aspect of this classic thriller, as I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat. However, the story covers a number of interesting political and historical aspects, such as post-war corruption in the defeated nations such as Austria, the uncertainty of post-war Europe, and what it means to be “moral”. The following line sums up nicely the film’s mixture of black humour and thought-provoking messages: “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This is definitely a film for adults, not because of any inappropriate content but rather because its messages which might be easily missed. The plot also builds slowly so it’s not for those who want fast-paced action from start to finish, plus there’s a lot of dialogue which I found required a lot of concentration. The obvious storyline loses it a star from my perspective, but visually it’s a lovely film to watch and appreciate.

4 stars