Recently I watched 12 Angry Men, and I really loved it. It’s a brilliantly written, directed, and acted film, filled with interesting camera movements where the director would suddenly switch the subject it was following, to symbolize the sudden change of stance the characters could go through. It’s a finely crafted film all-around, with gorgeous shots scattered throughout. The director certainly knew what he was doing in terms of shot composition and blocking a scene to get the most emotion out of the viewer. He often used eye lines to tell us something more, which is why I’ve chosen this shot for this article.
As you probably know, 12 Angry Men is a film about twelve jurors put inside one room, who are given the task to decide whether or not an 18-year-old has, in fact, killed his father. Eleven of those jurors are certain that the kid’s done it, while one, juror 8, is doubtful, and thus a discussion ensues. In my chosen shot, you can see one of the twelve jury members in the center of the frame, while all of the other members are looking at him, with their back turned towards the camera. They’re looking down on him. By this point in the film, the majority of these people have sided with juror 8, and think that the 18-year old is innocent, while there are still a couple of members that stubbornly resist, including the guy to whom all the focus is drawn. In this particular scene, he goes on a tantrum and yells that all the things 8 had said, was a bunch of nonsense and that the guy in question is guilty and should get punished for his deeds. Juror 8 has won over a few people by demonstrating why one piece of evidence would be incorrect, so for this one time, they’re standing by his side. The thing that I like about this shot is how Sidney Lumet was able to portray that group turmoil and how he guided our eyes.
The first thing I notice while looking at the shot is how Sidney Lumet composited it. Our eyes are automatically guided by the eye lines of the eleven men looking down onto the resisting juror, which leads us to the center of the frame. That looking “down on” can be taken both literally and figuratively, as they also look down on his opinion. The lines created by the way these actors are composited into the frame, also bring us to the center of the frame. The actors are ranked from tall to small and from standing to sitting, which creates a line that points down, which also enforces the fact that the resisting juror is beneath all of them. Also, notice how his character is very small in the shot, he is the smallest of them all, which refers to him being in the minority and not having control over the situation.
I also like how he stands out by being the only one looking at us, while the rest have their backs turned to the camera. The way he’s standing there is in contrast to how the other characters are looking, which also draws our eyes to him since our eyes immediately notice it when something’s out of the ordinary.
And that’s about all I have to say about this shot. There’s much to like about it, like the usage of eye lines, contrast, and composition. Overall, it’s a creatively shot film with lots of frames with a similar amount of thought put into them.