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12 Angry Men (1957) April 10th, 2020

After watching Anatomy of a Murder and comparing it to 12 Angry Men, my wife confessed she’d never seen the duodenary drama. I decided one classic jury movie deserved another so I ordered a copy. Anchorage is under a shelter in place order so I can’t just go down to Barnes and Noble to pick up an impulsive Criterion Blu-Ray. Enter the internet to save the day. We wasted no time picking up where Anatomy of a Murder left off when our copy of 12 Angry Men arrived this Friday afternoon.

12 Angry Men is inarguably a masterpiece. An hour and a half of 12 nameless men arguing in a single room, it asks only patience from the audience as it perfectly exemplifies the struggle inherent in our judicial system. Reason overcoming ignorance, prejudice and bias in the pursuit of justice. In that sense 12 Angry Men is both a cinema classic and a modern fairy tale. It expresses an ideal where the belligerent are still persuadable. Where bias is identified and put aside for the sake of facts. I don’t recognize that America.

We live in a world where our leaders erroneously disregard data, evidence and expertise in favor of ego boosting base sating political points. I’m obviously on the edge of calling out individuals but I’ll try to stay as non-specific as possible. At least 2056 people died to the coronavirus in the United States yesterday yet our leadership continues to disseminate untested medical advice while inexplicably denying ventilators to the states they serve. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/09/coronavirus-latest-news/

Unchecked rhetoric on talk radio and social media stoke the flames of racist bigotry while spreading easily disproven information about the ‘actual’ causes of the mass sickness. It’s not limited to national figures either, days ago a local small business owner suffered our community’s online wrath when he shared his opinion on social media that the actual cause for the worldwide pandemic was mass exposure to radiation emanating 5G towers. https://www.anchoragepress.com/news/wings-n-things-owner-gets-in-hot-water-over-coronavirus-facebook-post/article_51696154-7aa6-11ea-aaa8-bb63c7f985da.html

I know this seems off topic but I’m trying to make a case like Juror 8. I was shocked at how relevant I found the themes of 12 Angry Men. It depicts an America tearing itself apart by bigotry and bias. Struggling with the assimilation of immigrants, surges in violent crimes and an aging population desperate for relevance. Yet in spite of all that adversity they still manage to earnestly struggle together for an hour and a half in the pursuit for truth because it’s worth it. 60 years ago. I don’t remember the last time I had a communicative experience like the one in 12 Angry Men. I’m worried we’ve lost them. America would truly be great again if we could get back to a time of reason that for all I know only existed in fairy tales and movies.

Ok, now I’ll indulge myself and gush about the movie itself for a little bit. Cary Elwes once said “There’s a shortage of perfect movies in this world.” 12 Angry Men is one such movie. Consider the constraints, except for the first and last shots the story takes place in a single room and its adjoining bathroom. Think of that challenge, the movie needs to grip people’s attention and hold it while showing nothing more interesting than 12 guys getting progressively sweatier and more agitated. And it does! Through 12 brilliant performances and the ingenious direction of Sidney Lumet the room expands and becomes more colorful than its beige walls intended. The camera moves in this film are masterful. Lumet’s lens is very literal. The shots get wider when the group literally distances themselves from Ed Begley’s bigotry and tighter when the pressure get’s to E.G. Marshal and he finally starts to sweat. Don’t let the black and white grainy film stock fool you, this movie is perfect.


PS: John Fiedler plays Juror 2. He’s also the voice of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh. Put that in your mind and know it.

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