Day 357: Twelve Angry Men/Schindler’s List

#372/ 365 – ‘12 Angry Men’ (1957) – 96 mins
IMDb Challenge #243 / 250 – Ranked #8 – DVD Collection

A cut and dry guilty verdict in a Jury-judged murder case is brought into doubt by one lone voice in the shape of a concerned juror. Can he break through the prejudices of the other 11 to force them to take a fresh look at the evidence?

Who would have thought that a film which almost entirely takes place in one room, consisting of 12 very angry juror members interacting between each other would be such an entrancing experience.

For a film like 12 Angry Men, the acting is of paramount importance and there is a highly talented ensemble to play out this brilliant war of words. Standout performances come from Henry Fonda putting in a tremendous central role as the lone concerned Juror #8, who, using softly spoken words and calm balanced reasoning, tries to convince the other 11 this isn’t an open and shut case against the accused, who will be sent to the electric chair. However Lee J. Cobb ensures it isn’t a one-man acting show with incredible force as the extremely opinionated, biased, forceful and loud-mouthed Juror #3.

It is incredible to think that 12 Angry Men was the first directorial effort of the brilliant Sidney Lumet (‘Dog Day Afternoon’, 1975 and ‘The Verdict’, 1982). Through varying camera angles and some great cinematography coupled with a razor sharp and intelligent script he creates an claustrophobic energy with emotion that subtly draws you in and refuses to let you go.

If there’s one thing that there is beyond reasonable doubt, if you haven’t experienced 12 Angry Men before then you owe it to yourself to see it now. It is a classic and an undisputed one at that.

#373/ 365 – ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) – 195 mins
IMDb Challenge #244 / 250 – Ranked #7 – DVD Collection

Czech born, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) owns a factory in Poland where he exploits the cheap jewish labour found there. When he witnesses the atrocities of Aushwitz he creates a list of workers whom he is able to save – turning his factory into a safe haven and rescuing over 1,100 Jews.

“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

In 1993, the greatest filmmaker of our time and one I consider as a god in this industry did exactly what we expected, and then he turned around and completely surprised his audience. That year and for the third time in his career, Steven Spielberg proved he could still capture the summer box office which was no surprise as he broke the record for the highest-grossing film of all time. Big, grand, exhilarating and with incredible special effects, ‘Jurassic Park’ was your typical Spielberg film.

But whilst Jurassic Park was breaking these records, Spielberg was making a Holocaust drama. This was a surprise and proved that cinema’s biggest kid was growing up.

Schindler’s List centers itself around the true story of Oskar Schindler (with Liam Neeson giving a performance of great depth), a self-indulgent and opportunistic businessman purely motivated by money. He hires Jews to work in his factory so he can capitalize on their low wage rates. But Spielberg’s film tells of Schindler’s perspective changes as he risks losing everything to save as many of the lives he has previously exploited as possible.

Spielberg also gives us a second story of Amon Goeth, Nazi commander, a monster of a human being who murders Jews at will as sport. In one truly unnerving scene we see the pure evil of Goeth as he takes pot shots and kills Jewish workers from the balcony of his spectacular villa. Ralph Fiennes gives an extraordinary performance in this role that both mesmerizes and repulses at the same time. Ben Kingsley in the role of Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant gives an impressively understated performance.

Spielberg elected to shoot the picture in black-and-white, and his decision was indisputedly an excellent one. Janusz Kaminski’s (now a regular Spielberg collaborator) cinematography is meticulous as he makes effective use of shadow and light to help create the appropriate mood.

Schindler’s List inspires, touches you deeply, and yet simultaneously horrifies as Spielberg pulls no punches in presenting brutal and realistic images of the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust.

Some films, quite simply, aren’t meant to entertain. They are designed to compel on a much grander and important historical level. Spielberg’s crowning masterpiece ‘Schindler’s List’ for which he finally won the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars that were long denied him, is one of those films.

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