Henry Fonda did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying juror number 8 in 12 Angry Men.
Henry Fonda portray the lone juror who says not guilty in the initial roundup of votes. I will keep the fact that in all honesty that the character is somewhat misguided, as he really commits quite the injustice in his approach in the room, and really the obviously best juror in the room is number 4, until that is he falls into the insanity of everyone else. Well really before I get to this performance I can't help but espouse with problems with some of the writing of the film, even though it does form into a compelling piece of cinema in the end anyways.
Firstly the disregard of the eye witnesses basically only on their appearance. As we all know one can only possibly give good testimony if you are young, good looking, and entirely well dressed. Also the fact that 8 and the others continually use testimony they denounce as reason as fact. One should also not forget that the boy's failure in his alibi really is not properly thwarted by the others as 4 could still recount far more of his films four days than the boy could the same night. I especially love it when 4 gets one adjective wrong and they act like it is a big deal.
All in all really they did a pretty bad job especially since at the end of the day if the son did not kill the father than just who did. The son had the motivation, and the murder weapon was obviously his. Fell out of his pocket is an unlikely story, and so there were other knifes like his, that still made it no less likely that it was his knife. I just love though when they say no one would ever use a knife a certain ways, or ever have their glasses on in bed, or near a bed to quickly put them on, or who knows maybe she wore reading glasses and that was completely immaterial, but either way they all put these down as scientific fact.
Anyway I really should get off that and get to Fonda, but I did want to state my problems with the reasoning, because it does actually stop me from really getting entirely behind this performance as well simply because of these flaws. Fonda I should say is quite good in the role that is fairly typical Fonda fare as the steadfast moral man who will not let anger or hatred sway his emotions, even if he will be swayed by over sentimentality, alright I really should stop with that. Anyway though Fonda has a quiet but strong presence here that is always made known in from his first moment in which he decides to vote not guilty in front of all the others.
There is no wonder why Fonda was as popular as he was in these sorts of roles because he is terrific in playing a real down to earth wisdom, that never is over or underwhelming. This is most certainly true here as he is not especially loud in his portrayal but he has a particular passion that cannot be ignored by anyone. He is able to portray the sensibility behind this man who will stand for what he believes no matter what others will say against him clearly. Fonda proceeds through the film with an incredible force of will really that never lets up during the film, and he is honestly allows it to be believable that he would be able to sway the opinion as he does.
I would say what are just as important as his own self assured speeches are his moments where he supports the other men who come up with an idea or two to question the evidence. These moments are pretty short reactions but very effectively used by Fonda. They are usually a small smile or a pat on the arm, but they are quite well handled. Fonda in these moments is able to show both that 8 gains genuine happiness as he pulls each juror over to his more humane way of thinking. Fonda in these moments as well though is able to really show through his gentle positive support how he is able to keep the others on his side.
This is a performance that certainly does not have twists or turns, but nor should it. It is rightfully a consistent performance as a morally righteous man (at least in the film's view) than refuses to falter in the slightest when it comes to his beliefs. In comparison to Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory I would say that Fonda does not quite match up perfectly though. That is not to say Fonda is not good, he is, but juror number 8 never brings nearly as much power to the role as Douglas does, as well Douglas never for a moment has even a hint of sanctimony, I can't quite say the same about Fonda. Even though this is not the greatest performance of its kind, I must stress this is still strong work from Fonda nevertheless.