Thursday, July 25, 2013

12 ANGRY MEN (1997) - William Friedkin

On several occasions throughout his career, William Friedkin dipped back into the TV world after the sting of a box office failure left him hurting for feature work. In his bio, The Friedkin Connection, he talks about two such occasions fondly, projects which reinvigorated his creative juices despite their low profiles. As a Friedkin completist (or mostly completist), I thought I'd give them a whirl.

"Nightcrawlers" is an episode Friedkin directed for the new Twilight Zone series that reemerged in the late '80s. Coming off a heart attack and the stink-bomb arms dealing comedy, Deal of the Century, Friedkin put his old Exorcist skills to use with this horror quickie about a Vietnam Vet with a case of PTSD so bad that his nightmares begin manifesting as supernatural killing sprees. The plot is pretty goofy and the acting more than a little wooden. It's not one of the better Twilight Zones (new or old). Friedkin mined the haunted soldier angle much deeper in Bug. But, hey, after striking out with a Chevy Chase vehicle, I'm glad it got him back in the game.

Coming off the cinematic curse that was Jade, Friedkin's 1997 remake of 12 Angry Men for Showtime plays considerably better. He's got a classic gold star teleplay and an amazing cast (Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, Ossie Davis, James, Tony Danza). But Friedkin doesn't coast on either pedigree. He brings something new to the table. Namely, a greater exploration of modern racial tensions than that of the original.

His jury of twelve deciding the fate of a Hispanic teen isn't all white men around a table this time around but a more even mix of white, black and brown. More interestingly, the juror with the biggest bigot stick up his ass surprisingly isn't George C. Scott but Mykelti Williamson, an ex-Nation of Islam malcontent, who just wants to see the defendant go down--guilty or innocent--because he's "one of them." Though this version is stocked with major league silver screen thesps, it's Williamson who gets the flashiest role and knocks it farthest out of the park. I've always appreciated that guy as Limehouse on Justified. I now appreciate him that much more.

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