I really like this movie - I've seen it before, and I also went to see the play version when I was in high school. A lot of my friends were in the performance, and I remember them being pretty incredible and really enjoying it. Since I remember going to see them, it makes me feel sort of nostalgic to watch this, like, "Awww, I miss that sort of stuff!" I guess it makes this movie feel a little closer to my heart, since it brings back nice memories.
The film is about a group of jurors who have to decide if a boy is guilty of murder or not. They all initially think he is guilty, but after much arguing and examining of evidence, they start to change their minds. The plot is great, since it is really interesting to see such an engaging courtroom drama. I think the movie is stunning, though, because of its use of a one-room set (I think there is a grand total of 3 minutes of footage shot outside of the jury room). It's like, as Ebert mentions, it was shot in real-time, because every bit of the process is shown. It feels like you are part of the jury, almost, since you learn the exact same information that all of the jurors know, and you wonder about what the verdict should be as well.
The movie is very famous for it's use of camera lenses. I actually didn't know too much about this, although I always noticed that the movie becomes very claustrophobic by the end. There is actually a technical reason for this, though. Ebert explains it, writing, "In planning the movie, he [Lumet] says, a "lens plot" occurred to him: To make the room seem smaller as the story continued, he gradually changed to lenses of longer focal lengths, so that the backgrounds seemed to close in on the characters" (Great Movies II, 4-5). When I read this, I sort of went "Ooohhh!" I saw this before I had been conditioned to look for camera angles and techniques, so I never noticed this before. It was really cool to learn how much thought and care that Lumet put into this film - it really pays off, and makes for an incredible movie that still feels exciting even today. Ebert mentions how much we learn about different camera angles and their effect in this film, and that's a really good point. It's very rare that movies have so little set and soundtrack and things of that nature, and in 12 Angry Men, we are left with only the lens choices and camera angles to help us feel out the mood in that room. It's very cool to think about that - Lumet was so talented, clearly.
I think most people have seen this film, but it's really nice to watch it again. It's especially thought-provoking now, I think, to see the film started Sidney Lumet's wonderful career. Many people know his name, but sometimes people forget what films he made, since they are so varied in topic. It was also great to re-visit this film now that I'm more mature. When I first saw it was interesting but I had trouble pinning down what made it so special. Now I can - it's use of a small, confined set, the lack of names of jurors (even the defendant is only "the boy"), the use of camera lenses and angles. When you think of the challenges of making a film like this, it becomes more impressive than just it's surface-level plot. I hope you check this film out again, it's short and worth watching. Also, make sure you read Ebert's post he wrote about Sidney Lumet. He writes beautifully about his life and career.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on 12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet: In Memory, a post by Ebert