3.5 Stars out of 4
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a more unwounded Lumet film but in its messiness its poses numerous cinematic pleasures. I wouldn’t call it a modest work just a more bridled story, avoiding Lumet’s particular voracity for satire. But like all of Lumet’s films (such as Network, 12 Angry Men, and Dog Day Afternoon) morality has a way of fooling itself. Character motives are so important that what they desire is, for them, moral enough. (continue reading…)
3.5 Stars out of 4
Sidney Lumet’s dirty dozen in one-room drama draws a fine line around moral ends and its consequences. It’s a character clash debating the guilty and not guilty. Is that young eighteen year-old boy really that vicious killer that the evidence supposes? Lumet’s opening is a succinct introduction to the setting. We are in a courtroom, the juror watches on, and a black-haired boy pouts in the prosecution chair. 12 Angry Men begins to exude innocence. There’s a lot more to this film than you would expect. Don’t expect a Law and Order popcorn drama or a dull black and white talk fest, because 12 Angry Man has a robust build. It paces itself with great craft and, despite its onslaught of predictability, the actors triumph. We are dealing with transparent ordeals — an obvious suspect alters into a figure of innocence. Why claim this boy guilty? Because of the witnesses. Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) is the minority. He believes the boy didn’t kill his father and that the evidence is flawed. Why? It’s all instinct. Henry Fonda of course has to play the character with the heart of gold and bourgeois intellect.
Though Lumet sometimes makes the film more about one character — Fonda and all his grandeur — 12 Angry Man moves with a slick pace. The film begins on a moral ground and devolves into hypothetical reasoning. Suddenly, the boy is guilty just because he is. Lumet battles parental hierarchy, ageism simmering to a silence in a room full of adults. Is 12 Angry Men about redemption? Perhaps but to a greater extent, it’s about discovery.
Its rather stagey presence is fulfilled by grandiose dialogue and acute banter. The action in this film is more pungent than one would think. Once again, this isn’t a court room jinx show, it’s a broader depiction on the liberation of youth guilt. Through Fonda’s accord, Lumet ejects this theme, and as contrived as 12 Angry Men dares to be, it gradually becomes almost brilliant — a verdict of transcendency. It’s minimalistic, short in length, and inundated with that archaic banter. But 12 Angry Men teaches us fittingly: nothing is really ever as it first seems.