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A day’s worth of deliberations is illuminated by a pacing that is deceptively quick and, improbably, completely riveting.
The tone of the deliberations changes, the group dynamics realign as the men ready themselves for yet another round of thwarted consensus building.
Initially, Fonda’s juror 8 is the lone holdout against a reflexive vote for guilt.
12 Angry Men has become a cultural touchstone, a time capsule of American justice before the civil rights era and the expansion of civil liberties in the 1960s.
Its influence has been vast, and it established Lumet’s reputation as an artist at the forefront of social change.
He recognizes the moral duty to deliberate, and slowly shatters the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses, one by one.
The jury is transformed as opinions shift, factions emerge, and prejudices are revealed.
He marshals the facts in support of reasonable doubt, pushing back against the fury of the mob.
A mild-mannered architect, he proves himself to be a better lawyer than the court-appointed defense counsel.
And indeed, in his films, Lumet would often show a preference for the cramped spaces and tight shots of kitchen-sink dramas, as opposed to the larger landscapes cinema makes possible.
Nowhere was this claustrophobic point of view put to better use than in 12 Angry Men, where the transition from television screen to the big screen was quite seamless.