I do tend to have a bit of a fascination with "bottle movies". I've mentioned this a few times before, but for me, it's seeing how good of a story can be told with how little there is to use. Typically, a bottle movie will take place in one room, and there are a few classic examples out there under this category. However, if you see just one bottle movie to say that you've had the patience to sit through one (they aren't necessarily for everyone) it should probably be '12 Angry Men', being that it is the quintessential classic in the genre.
Amazingly, I haven't actually seen this movie until fairly recently when a friend showed it to me. I'll be perfectly honest with everyone here, I didn't LOVE it and even had a few moments when I snickered at something that probably wasn't supposed to be funny. But having said that, it does become a movie I have a certain admiration for. Keep in mind that I'm no pro critic who gets paid for everything he writes, and some really classic stuff like this is material that's not as much in my wheelhouse as it is something I can admire from afar and have respect for. A lot of this was really good, but I think my genuine problem going into it was just already knowing how it would all go down.
The film takes place in an overly hot jury room of the New York County Courthouse where a jury discusses the case of an 18-year-old boy who has been accused of stabbing his father to death. If at the end of the day, this young man is found guilty, he faces the fatal electric chair. Furthermore, the verdict of guilty or not guilty must be completely unanimous. As eleven men seem to have no problem at all looking at the evidence and sealing the kid's fate, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) has a different idea, and reasonable doubt of the crime in his mind. So, this is the story of the one guy in the jury room trying to convince everyone else there to shift their verdict in order to save a potentially innocent person. We've seen it parodied numerous times, but this is where all those parodies really came from.
We can't give a bottle movie like this much credit without its performances that really carry the film. Aside from Juror #8, we've also got Jurors #1 (Martin Balsam), #2 (John Fiedler), #3 (Lee J. Cobb), #4 (E.G. Marshall), #5 (Jack Klugman), #6 (Edward Binns), #7 (Jack Warden), #9 (Joseph Sweeney), #10 (Ed Begley), #11 (George Voskovec) and #12 (Robert Webber), and no, none of them are referred to by their real names until the very end. Seems like a lot of name-dropping to fill space, I know, but there's something to be said about these performances along with their personalities. The film forces the audience to think for themselves, and even relate to one or perhaps a few of these characters as we go.
Despite knowing how it all ends, I might suggest that from a filmmaking standpoint, this is a pretty golden title. It is and has been for a while now, toted as one of the best films ever made, and with the simple techniques used here, it's easy to see why. The example that stood out to me was seeing these guys seemingly literally sweating throughout their performances in this overheated jury room. The heat adds to the tension everyone feels and seems to make the delivery of frustrating dialogue more believable. Are these guys planning on just saying "guilty" so they can go home and be comfortable, or will they endure this discomfort as long as they have to in order to save a life?
Although on a personal level, this doesn't land on the list of my favourite movies, the film has my utmost respect for its overall execution, and it's not at all hard to see why this film is so beloved by so many. I really think if I had no idea what to expect here, going into it, I'd have gotten a lot more out of it. But again, it's just a scenario I've seen a whole bunch of different times, and it's a shame that I managed to watch something like 'Jury Duty' (a Pauly Shore comedy) before this. I will, however, still highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid classic because it still does provide a good amount of tension and drama by using so little. It may not be on my list, but if you can, give it a shot for yourself!