Oscar-winning filmmaker William Friedkin gathered an all-star cast in his made-for-TV remake of 12 Angry Men, which marks 25 years.
Twelve jurors gather in the jury room on one of the hottest days in New York to debate the fate of the accused. The judge informs them that a non-unanimous verdict will result in a mistrial while a guilty verdict means the accused will receive a death sentence. Leave it to Davis/Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon) to want to debate the accused’s fate. He also believes that the boy should get a fair deliberation, not a decision in five minutes. Over the course of the next two hours, the jury deliberates whether they want to know. The late film monologue from Juror 3 (George C. Scott) shows exactly why the actor took home an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor. We’re talking about a juror who is estranged from his own child and perhaps that might be clouding his judgment.
Davis started a trend in voting not guilty. As the deliberating continues, everyone slowly comes around with Scott’s Juror #3 being the last to vote not guilty. The tension in the room never lets up throughout the process and you feel like you’re sitting in the room right there with them. Every performance in this film feels authentic as the characters bring their own biases into the jury room. It also helps that they had two camera running on every take and filmed sequentially. Even though three actors would earn Emmy nominations, this is a true ensemble film and Friedkin lets them get their moment to shine. But again, it is George C. Scott who delivers the most rousing performance.
Reginald Rose adapted the script from his own 1954 teleplay. Many people know Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-nominated 1957 film but the live CBS production preceded the film by three years. The teleplay spawned two American films, both for theaters and made-for-TV. Not including the original production, seven films have been based on Rose’s script, both domestic and foreign. Where this film differs from the 1957 classic is diversity in casting. There certainly could have been women in the jury but then the title would have to change. When one talks about the argument for or against remaking classic films, this film is a great example for why they should. Obviously, the lack of women in the jury is something that would change today but at least they added diversity to the jury in the TV remake.
The film, shot over the course of ten days, would earn 6 nominations during the Primetime Emmy Awards in 1998. Both George C. Scott (Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie) and the sound mixing team won Emmy awards in their categories. While Jack Lemmon lost to Ving Rhames in the Best Actor category, Rhames famously gifted his Golden Globe after winning for his role in Don King: Only in America. I’m not going to dive into the HFPA politics but this was one of those moments that you had to watch as it happened on TV. Imagine that taking place during an era with social media!
Even though this version of 12 Angry Men is a remake, William Friedkin’s direction and the star-studded cast are what help make the 1997 film worth viewing.
DIRECTOR: William Friedkin
SCREENWRITER: Reginald Rose
CAST: Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen
12 Angry Men premiered August 17, 1997 on Showtime. The MGM film is available on Blu-ray via Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Grade: 4/5
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