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12 ANGRY MEN

title: 12 ANGRY MEN
year: 1957
cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman
rating: ***1/2

Set in a hot, stuffy deliberations room full of not only angry but stubborn and impatient jurors, Henry Fonda alone makes up for what had to be the worst defense in the history of murder cases. This honored film, a courtroom drama taking place outside the courtroom, has Fonda as a mild-mannered architect acting as a defense attorney, proving that a young man accused of fatally stabbing his father, in a supposedly open-shut case, is not guilty by means of reasonable doubt. The fellow jurors he must convince, including a barking, bitter Lee J. Cobb, a stiff and determined E.G. Marshall, and Jack Warden as a salesman who'd rather see a ball game, aren’t backing down…but more open-minded jurors like Jack Klugman help him gain more and more support. While the writing can be manipulative, intentionally swaying the audience right along with the jury, the direction, within the confined setting, gives each member a chance to shine. Yet the acting, performed by a stellar cast with some terrific moments, often feels stagy: especially Lee J. Cobb’s over-the-top breakdown. But it’s Fonda’s show here, remaining the constant barometer in an ever-changing tide.
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