Wednesday, April 13, 2011
1:30 AM |
I just finished Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men
. No car chases, no guns, no special effects. Just twelve men talking around a table, all of them members of a jury arguing whether the defendant in a murder case is guilty or not. And yet it is one of the most intense movies I've ever seen. Of course I've heard of this film before -- yet I've never found myself wanting to watch for some reason or other. It has the distinct reputation of a film classic, and alas I still harbor a common pedestrian's misplaced anxiety over watching anything old, in black and white, something that's "reputable," or Good For Me. (For many people, these qualities are a kiss of a death in a movie; something about human nature insists on patronizing the dregs of culture, like the Saw
series. Or Willing Willie.
) Lumet's death a few days ago eventually pushed me to try this, his first feature film. I've loved other films of his before -- Dog Day Afternoon
, Murder on the Orient Express
, and The Pawnbroker
 most of all, a film my friend John Stevenson thrust upon my unwilling hands and said: "Watch this," although I really didn't want to (and came away awed by the movie). I've also seen some of the others, but they were slight works in critical estimation, although entertaining still -- and always pulsating with the theme of social justice. And the blueprint for that is evident in this first film. Here, how Henry Fonda's lone dissenting juror triumphs in his unshakable pursuit of a reasonable doubt is a masterstroke in acting, but it is Lee J. Cobb's devastated and defeated sad-sack of a juror, with sad memories of his own son, that wrings out first our enmity and then later on our deep sympathies. As Fonda's character intones near the end of the film: "It's very hard to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And no matter where you run into it, prejudice obscures the truth." And I think that's what the film is ultimately about -- an examination of what we accept to be Truths in this life. What is Truth? How do we know if something is really truthful? And can we stake human life on something that can easily be obscured by our prejudices?
Unfortunately, in this world, that injustice happens every single day. That jury room might as well be a metaphor, a microcosm, for all our lives.
Labels: directors, film, issues, law
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