12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)
This flick gives me the horn. Big time. It’s almost entirely shot on a single set, yet intensely cinematic. It’s just a dozen blokes talking to each other, yet moves and twists like a thriller. It gives you the chance to feel all liberal and self-righteous, yet it’s also fucking hilarious. And it’s one of the truly hot summer films. Like Do The Right Thing-level hot. I’m loosening my collar just thinking about it.
A young lad from the slums is on trial for murder. The 12 men of the title – women aren’t to be trusted, especially back then in the 50s – gather in the jury room to thrash out a verdict. They take an initial vote and all except one, Juror 8 (Henry Fonda), say “guilty”. Juror 8’s position is initially mocked and derided, but as they go back over the details of the case, a different scenario from the one presented in court (which we have not been privy to) starts to emerge.
The screenplay, by Reginald Rose, is a piece of genius in its exposition, pacing and characterization. Every character manages to make an impact, yet none is painted too broadly. The cast, which includes Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Jack Klugman, is borderline immaculate.
This was Sidney Lumet’s first film and I doubt he ever made a better one.