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Acting in 12 Angry Men

This version was saved 12 years, 8 months ago View current version     Page history
Saved by Sean Desilets
on December 8, 2009 at 3:22:14 pm
 

Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is a film giving multiple examples of amazing acting. The film’s story is driven by the performances of the twelve men making up the bulk of the cast. Most notably, the performances of Henry Fonda as Juror number eight and Lee J. Cobb as Juror number three give an acting face-off that sets a level of skill and talent, making the film a remarkable work. The Actress Maureen O’Hara is quoted on Fonda’s acting abilities saying, “All he had to do was wag his little finger and he could steal a scene from anybody ((2)p135).” Fonda dishes out the performance of a lifetime, using complex facial movements coupled with marvelously delivered words to not only change the minds of the jurors who surround him but also to win the hearts of audiences everywhere.

 

Each cast member envelops their character beautifully and through the delivery of phenomenal acting abilities their characters’ personalities are learned by the viewer. Character development through the actor’s dialogue and actions throughout the film not only keeps the viewer interested and entertained, but truly makes the viewer understand why it is the character is voting and behaving in the way they are. Film critic and writer Angela Errigo describes the acting in 12 Angry Men by stating that, “Each actor makes his mark in this showcase of superb characterizations and ensemble dynamics. . .((3)p331)."

 

Actors and their Characters

 

Martin Balsam portrays the strict, rule abiding yet calming Juror number one.

John Fiedler plays the shy and timid Juror number two.

Lee J. Cobb embodies the unstable and vicious Juror number three.

E.G. Marshall is the logical and fact driven Juror number four.

Jack Klugman plays the sincere and street-smart Juror number five.

Edward Binns acts as a slightly less developed character, playing the respectful and principled Juror number six.

Jack Warden is the indifferent sports enthused Juror number seven.

Henry Fonda takes on the persona of the honest and reasonable Juror number eight.

Joseph Sweeney plays the elderly but wise Juror number nine.

Ed Begley is the bigoted, haughty Juror number ten.

George Voskovec plays another slightly underdeveloped character- the foreign and hopeful Juror number eleven 11.

Robert Webber plays the indecisive and side flipping Juror number twelve.

(1) 

   

What sets the performance style in this film apart from films made prior to 12 Angry Men is the realistic or naturalistic form of the representational acting style employed by the actors in the film. The viewers of this film can relate to these men and their situations. They act, react, and speak as we do. The grand flowing theatrical movements of the past are replaced here with subtle movements and expressions of the face and body.

 

   

 

Examples of the Acting in 12 Angry Men

 

 

 

 

In this clip we are given one long and continuous shot of the jurors entering the room where they will be located in for the remainder of the film. The acting of the twelve jurors in the room is incredible. There is a large amount of movement and the actors never cease to perform. Even when not the focus of a portion of the scene the men in the background continue to act. The actions they perform are natural and make it easy to relate to the characters. Subtle actions are employed throughout the scene- from Henry Fonda drumming his fingers on the windowsill to various men fiddling with their handkerchiefs. Each character is constantly doing some sort of action. These subtleties are strategic and staged in a way to look natural and unplanned. Facial expressions play a large role in the acting of this film and great examples of exemplary facial movement can be seen in this clip. Henry Fonda’s face after juror number twelve (Robert Webber) walks away from him and window is vastly expressive. Lee J. Cobb’s facial work when speaking to juror number two (John Fiedler) is impressive as well. Emotions are no longer expressed through words alone, but the face and body are used to emit feelings and personality. All of these aspects of the acting seen in this clip and the rest of the film add to both the individual character developments as well as the story of the film. 

 

Works Consulted

 

(1) Abaius, Cole. "Get the Verdict on '12 Angry Men'." FilmSchoolRejects. March 8, 2009. Web. October 27, 2009.

(2) Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction8th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.

(3) Schneider, Steven Jay. 1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieNew York: Barron's, 2008.

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