Plot: What’s it about?
A murder case has just ended and as the jury members retire to reach a verdict, eleven of them are ready to deliver a guilty decision. All the evidence seems to be against the defendant, a young man from the slums accused of killing his own father. But since this case holds the young man’s life in the balance, all twelve members must register their votes, one way or the other. And since one of them seems to think some doubt exists, he refuses to pass a guilty vote to send the young man to his death. Each of the jurors have their own unique mannerisms and background, but in this case, the facts at hand are all that matters. While others are ready to declare the young man as guilty and end the issue, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) insists that while he is not sure of the innocence of the accused, he does believe some doubt exists and that warrants some discussion. The others are not pleased about sitting in a small room on the hottest day of the summer, but they have no choice and such, the debates, arguments, fights, and connections start and by the time all is said and done, the life of not just the defendant, but the jurors will be changed.
I love this movie and consider to be one of the finest films of all time, a claim I do not make alone, I’m sure. This excellent film is always found on the best of all time lists, which is an honor it deserves and even after all these years, it stands up as well as ever. I think while a certain time period can be placed on the events, I think 12 Angry Men is a timeless picture, as it touches on issues that never fade, such as justice, prejudice, and free thinking. As such, it never seems dated in the least and also never becomes too preachy, which could have happened a lot within this material. In addition to a terrific storyline and direction, this movie develops twelve character in rich, full form and to me, that is most impressive. The jurors could have been stereotyped and dulled out, but in this movie, they seem deep and complex, much more so as the film moves on. Some have more depth than others, but all are allowed time to open up, which makes the film shine and the actors the space to inhabit the characters.
This is an ensemble piece at heart, but I think Henry Fonda takes the reins and drives the film, never faltering in the least. As the lone juror who wants to talk things over, Fonda is forced to stand alone and as time passes, make his case and try to convince the others that he is right. But he never does so in an arrogant fashion, thanks to some wonderful writing and a terrific performance. We are able to see that he is conflicted at times, but wants to make sure he does his best to see justice done, even if it means putting his faith in his fellow jurors. Fonda is given some tremendous material to work with and he delivers on all counts, one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen. Other films with Fonda include How The West Was Won, Fail-Safe, On Our Merry Way, The Ox-Bow Incident, and The Grapes of Wrath. The other jurors were played by Martin Balsam (Two Minute Warning, The Delta Force), John Fiedler (Savannah Smiles, True Grit), Lee J. Cobb (Our Man Flint, The Final Hour), E.G. Marshall (The Chase, Nixon), Jack Klugman (Tv’s The Odd Couple), Ed Binns (Night Moves, Patton), Jack Warden (Used Cars, Dirty Work), Joseph Sweeney (The Fastest Gun Alive), Ed Begley (Billion Dollar Brain, The Unsinkable Molly Brown), George Voskovec (Butterfield 8, The Iceman Cometh), and Robert Webber (Private Benjamin, The Dirty Dozen).
Video: How does it look?
Criterion’s Blu-ray (from 2011) looked pretty good. Then again most of their stuff looks pretty good. New restorations abound and they show, literally, on screen. Well a decade has gone by and now we’re getting new 4K offerings to films we thought couldn’t look any better. We were wrong. The 1.66:1 HEVC 4K image is nothing short of perfection. Granted, black and white films do have their own unique “way” about them, but there’s something different at play here. Detail has been improved and the Dolby Vision offers deeper, darker blacks and whiter whites. I’ve seen this film in just about every format possible and let me tell you – this one blows them out of the water. It’s spot on amazing.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio is a bit of a different story as we only get a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. We’ve often said that “mono is as mono does” (which, when you think about it, really makes no sense at all) but when there’s only one channel involved there’s a limited amount of action that can happen. The sound mix was reduced to remove all elements of hiss, static and anything else that might get in the way of an otherwise superb mix. If ever there was a movie that was dialogue-driven, it’s this one. Vocals sound full and rich and though there are a few instances of a slight hiss in the background, they’re few and far between. Again, for a film of this age, it sounds pretty darn good.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Purists will probably want to hang onto their Criterion Blu-ray, since the extras are different from that one and this.
Disc One (4K)
- Audio Commentary – Filmmaker (and film historian) Gary Gerani provides a new audio commentary for the film that’s chock full of useful tidbits of information. It’s always a treat when a new audio commentary is made for a film of this age.
- Audio Commentary – Not so new is this second track by Drew Casper which is a holdover from the MGM DVD from the mid 2000’s.
Disc Two (Blu-ray)
- Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Making 12 Angry Men – UCLA Michael Asimov, Patricial King Hanson, film historian Robert Osborne, director Sydney Lumet, actor Jack Klugman collaborate on this “vintage” feature.
- Inside the Jury Room – If you wanted to know a little bit more about the justice system and how its role is portrayed in the film, look no further.
The Bottom Line
There’s no denying the long-lasting appeal of this movie. As of this writing, it ranks as the #5 “Best” movie of all-time according to the IMDb. I’m sure that will fluctuate a bit though I’d doubt if it ever left the top 10. Kino’s presesntaton offers up superb image quality a new commentary track and wrangles in some vintage features from the older MGM DVD’s. This, along with Criterion’s offering, make a great set.