Anthony's Film Review
12 Angry Men (1957)
A fantastic one-of-a-kind cinematic courtroom drama...
12 Angry Men is a unique kind of courtroom drama film. Instead of two trial lawyers presenting their opposing arguments, the film centers on 12 jurors deliberating over the verdict of a case. Therefore, it actually takes place in a jury room rather than a courtroom, but it's still a courtroom drama in that the defendant's fate is at stake. Here, an 18-year-old boy is accused of murdering his father in the first degree, and it is up to a 12-member jury to decide whether he should get the death penalty. You would think, from the title, that the jury unanimously finds the defendant guilty. Instead, we have 11 prejudiced jurors who find the boy guilty and one juror who declares the boy not guilty.
Henry Fonda plays that one dissenting juror, Juror #8 (like an actual courtroom jury, the characters are referred to by number). He is one of the 12 angry men, but has a different reason for his feelings: Jurors 1 through 7 and 9 through 12 do not see the case the way he does. What it all comes down to is a disagreement between Juror #8's rational thought and the other 11 jurors' emotional assumptions. Plus, #8 is willing to be patient and respect the defendant's life, whereas the other jurors' are impatient due to hot weather, the boring aspects of the trial, and even an upcoming baseball game that one juror had planned to attend.
If you think the setup is great, just wait until you see what happens afterwards. Juror #8 plants his first seed of doubt into some of the other jurors, by starting a discussion about the case that centers on the noise of a passing train. It's a dramatic shakeup in the jury room. A few jurors change their vote to "not guilty," but the rest remain confident with their "guilty" verdict. Every time this happens, a fiery exchange of words takes place, once again highlighting the battle between logic and emotion. The more you see Juror #8 do what he does, the more confident you feel about him and how he looks at the case.
This is a film that is so magnificent yet so simple. Almost the entire movie takes place in the jury room, giving us a sense of what it's like to spend hours in the same room with the same people to discuss whether an accused person should live or die. (In case you haven't figured it out, this story was originally a play.) All of the 12 cast members deliver superb performances, expressing emotions ranging from anger to compassion and remorse. Overall, the film is done exceptionally well, and as far as I know, there really hasn't been a movie since (excluding any remakes of 12 Angry Men) that is remotely similar to this one in terms of presenting the same subject matter in an engaging fashion.
Who would've thought that a story centering on jury deliberations (which some people usually don't consider to be very exciting in real life) could be so riveting? It just goes to show that you can turn any kind of story into a great one, if you handle it very creatively. That's what screenwriter Reginald Rose and director Sidney Lumet have done with 12 Angry Men. They have given us a cinematic masterpiece that will take you on an emotional ride and leave you inspired at the end. It's no wonder that many people cite this film as a great way to learn about how to peacefully settle difficult conflicts.
For more information about 12 Angry Men, visit the Internet Movie Database.