Lumet was a New York director to the core, and was inspired by issues of social justice. He once wrote that “While the goal of all movies is to entertain, the kind of film in which I believe goes one step further. It compels the spectator to examine one facet or another of his own conscience. It stimulates thought and sets the mental juices flowing.” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has even described watching 12 Angry Men for the first time as a ‘pivotal moment’ in her life, convincing her that the study of law was the right path for her.
Lumet was also captivated by psychological dramas, writing character study after character study about tortured, conflicted man in peril. Film historian Stephen Bowles wrote that “nearly all the characters in Lumet’s gallery are driven by obsessions or passions that range from the pursuit of justice, honesty, and truth to the clutches of jealousy, memory, or guilt. It is not so much the object of their fixations but the obsessive condition itself that intrigues Lumet.” His style was realistic and raw, delving into psychological and societal issues with a universally truthful eye, and he has left a lasting impact on American cinema.