Saturday 12.19.2009 | 4:23 AM EDT
Penned In, Pent Up + Put-Out:
Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men
At 83 years of age, the infallible Sidney Lumet wielded the newest HD technology to make 2007′s Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, a disturbing hell-ride that keeps furious pace next to other dark classics, Happiness, The Grifters and Requiem for a Dream.
A sort of Cane and Abel story, this boiler room drama mines signature Lumet territory: conflicted characters caught in relentlessly escalating circumstances. Long Days Journey Into Night, Network, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Strip Search…all these films follow protagonists through paths that inevitably lead to regrettable ends. In Lumet’s most recent effort, The Devil’s only salve is administered in the first 5 minutes, as the camera exposes Marisa Tomei in a disarmingly compromised, um, position. It kinda knocks the wind out of you. Age has most definitely been kind to Ms Tomei. So very, very kind…
Sorry, let me get a grip here, catch my breath…
Point being that Mr. Lumet has made quite a few fine fucking films (excuse the pun). It started with a bang in 1957. Yet, the only physical violence in 12 Angry Men occurs before the story begins. It stands passively off-stage, letting it’s characters’ urban frustrations burst their well-tailored seams in a court room drama that pits race, class, age, volatile temperaments and stiff moral resolve fiercely against one another.
Maybe what we need is a little yelling here…
On a hot summer day in New York, this jury of twelve angry men are penned-in, pent-up and put out, ready to decide a man’s fate in time to get home for dinner. Until–cue cinema voiceover–One Man Stands Alone in the pursuit of justice.
Henry Fonda plays a sort of inverted Fountainhead hero as an architect Standing Alone against bigotry, peer pressure, disinterest and ignorance. Brave juryman Davis turns the egotist Howard Roark on his handsome, manly head and shakes out a humble servant of the people. With calm reserve and modest intelligence, mild-mannered Davis serenely chips away at the bias and prejudices of his peers in an effort to save a disadvantaged urban youth from the electric chair. Wow. Sounds totally, like, serious. Well, it is– and well it should be.
But cut to the chase. Our hero’s liberal rhetoric and steely resolve does indeed Save the Day. Sorry, it’s not a spoiler when a film is over 50 years old. But the ending is not the true payoff here. Taut script and riveting ensemble performances aside, 12 Angry Men proves the one point that often-maligned, right-winged Ayn Rand got right: thoughtfulness, reason and unflappable integrity are in fact marks of a man worthy of your attention and demanding of your respect.
Just don’t make him angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.
We now present to you the unfortunate practice of making
laughable trailers for seriously good films …
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