Film: 12 Angry Men (1957) (DVD)
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Reginald Rose
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Robert Webber
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Editing: Carl Lerner
Distributor: United Artists
Runtime: 96 mins (1 hr 36 mins)
The vast majority of 12 Angry Men (i.e. every scene except for three very brief ones) takes place within the confines of a single room in which the jurors discuss the case and attempt to reach a decision. It is an adaptation of the play also written by Reginald Rose – it was written with the intent of being performed on a stage with minimalist settings. Therefore, this film is dependent mostly on its dialogue than it is on its visuals. Even though the narrative plays out from daytime into nighttime, there are really no extreme changes in lighting that could give way to discomfort.
Like much cinema of this era, this film is shot entirely in black-and-white. Thus, viewers need not worry of any flashy, colorful lights or images that may spring up. Moreover, the lighting and depth-of-field is relatively flat, so there are no scenes or shots that could portray a high contrast of hues within a frame. Kaufman’s cinematography is rather calm and collected. While there are a few instances of zooms, jilted camera angles, and crane shots, none of these are extreme or consist of any rapid or shaky movements. Moreover, the scenes tend to run for a relatively lengthy amount of time with minimal editing, rather than fast-paced editing that would suggest similarly rapid action. None of the editing choices could be considered visually daring, flashy, or stimulating.
Consensus: Overall, 12 Angry Men is a film that has become more well-known for its sharp, exquisite dialogue than for any particular visual element of its product (save for a few famous shots). It is very minimal in its color scheme, framing, camera movements/angles, textures, and visuals in general, instead focusing on the intensity of the narrative’s conflict and the actors’ performances. However, if concerns should still arise despite all of this, the viewer may also enjoy simply listening to the film without taking in any of the pictures, since its strengths really lie in its dialogue and general play-like structure.