The real reason to watch 1997’s remake of “12 Angry Men” is to see Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott share the screen once again as they did in the very entertaining remake of “Inherit the Wind.” This time Lemmon replaces Henry Fonda in the role of Juror 8 while Scott is Juror 3. For a film directed by William Friedkin starring twelve very notable and prolific character actors, this version of “12 Angry Men” is very vanilla and absolutely forgettable. Friedkin never quite opts for subtlety with this reworking of the stage play, so he walks around with his camera, and films the teleplay like it’s an episode of “Law & Order.”
There’s never any real tension or suspense in the film and some of the shots are oddly framed, decreasing any sense of urgency that the former film obtained. There’s no real art form to this new film, as it’s mostly reliant on stale direction that basically just gets the job done and isn’t interesting in enhancing the simplistic story about jurors tasked with deciding the fate of a boy on trial for killing his father. Friedkin directs this television film very much like he would a television episode, and doesn’t really seem to seek out to bring a sense of flavor or unique energy to this remake.
It feels very much like a television production and never quite rises above being anything more than a television production of another famous stage play. Most of the more important story elements are glossed over in favor of a lot of improv, while much of the subtle themes about class and tension are increased to a sickening degree. The racial themes are very much clubbed over our head throughout the duration of the film, with a lot of implications toward the African American jurors turning on one another while Mykelti Williamson is exhausting as an militant Islamic man insistent on turning the tables on the perceived take over from the Mexican population.
There’s even a terrible scene where Mykelti Williamson’s character Juror 10 tries to band the minority jurors together for a sense of justice, and none of it ever really adds any sort of relevance to the actual storyline. Even the climactic unraveling of Juror number 3 is emphasized to a stale result that doesn’t quite add much to the story. Scott successfully sells a terribly written final monologue in spite of never quite rising to the occasion as the loud mouthed Juror 3 who is mainly supposed to be a man who barks at every turn. George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon are very good in their roles, particularly Lemmon who really masters the soft spoken every man role that juror number 8 is supposed to embody. There are also very strong performances from the likes of James Gandolfini who is very restrained as well as Tony Danza who fills in for Jack Klugman without missing a step.
Sadly the film is brought down not only by its pedestrian direction but truly terrible performances particularly by Mykelti Williamson who is immensely over the top to the point of being comical as Juror 10 who walks around screaming and slamming props while also barking at characters in the midst of an angry rant. Williamson really seems to try to keep up with the presences of talented actors like Edward James Olmos and William Peterson, and in the process chews the scenery at every turn. “12 Angry Men” doesn’t quite pack the dramatic punch it’s supposed to, and when Friedkin can save the film with dynamic direction, but instead just shifts to auto-drive turning a wonderful play in to a sub-par film. It’s a very disappointing version of the classic stage play, this 1997 version takes a great director, teams up twelve very entertaining actors, and instead chooses to lob a soft ball at the audience with a sub-par and forgettable adaptation that never actually re-invents the original play.