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If you have read Stephen King’s “11/22/63”, you will feel compelled to see “Of Mice and Men” and “12 Angry Men” again. I did and I wanted, and how long has it been since I have seen Sydney Lumet’s masterpiece. I did not know before that it was his first feature. This is stunning, as he not only masters the actors and acting, creating thrilling interactions between these sometimes more, sometimes less angry men – he also uses the setting that is basically a stage to create space and dynamics. He uses camera movements and cuts to create a universe in which the characters can bring all of their histories, their rationality and irrationality, their rage, their traumas, their professions, their life experience, their fears. He locks them down into a jury room, turns on the Summer heat and brings on the thunderstorms. He boils them alive in their own sweat to see what will happen.

Looking at this today, the use of theatre limitations is pure genius, it allows to leave out the courtroom drama, make it a jury room drama instead. This could fall flat, but it does not: all the pieces of information are conveyed through argument, nothing feels convoluted. This could be easy work for the jury, as all the evidence has been presented, but matter-of-fact it is harder, because not only is there no way of going back to questioning witnesses, but the jurors also have to live with the deficiencies and neglects of attorney and court. There is no white knight superhero who comes in with superior intelligence and conjures up the arguments to rescue somebody whose innocence will be proven at some point, but there is only a regular guy at the outset (albeit played by an immensely intense Henry Fonda) who is not satisfied with the quick way a kid is sent to the electric chair. He does not have specific reasons, he does not provide clever insights, he just wants to force everybody to talk and argue about it. “I don’t have anything brilliant” is how Henry Fonda starts it.

The opposition, or rather the blood thirst / indifference to a person’s life crumbles over 90 minutes, and towards the end there are the two scenes that may still be among the most memorable in movie history: Juror 10’s hate speech against anybody and everybody is rewarded with his peers (literally) turning their backs on  him, one by one. And Juror 3, the last man standing, played by an outstandingly energetic and powerful Lee. J. Cobb, finally explodes with rage about the others, himself, his failures in life, like a supernova burning away all his covers and defenses.

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