12 Angry Men is a 1957 drama film based on the 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose. Re-written as a feature film by Rose, and directed by Sidney Lumet (the first feature film he directed), 12 Angry Men is now regarded as a classic.
The story follows twelve men on a jury in New York, where an 18 year old boy is on trial, and facing mandatory execution if found guilty, for the murder of his father. Apart from the first two minutes and the last minute, the entire film is set inside the jury room and an adjoining bathroom. Juror 8, Henry Fonda, is the protagonist of the film, and is the first to raise the idea of a reasonable doubt to the boy’s guilt, in the face of a guilty vote from the eleven other jurors.
As the twelve members of the jury debate whether there is a reasonable doubt in regards to the guilt or innocence of the boy on trial, their own personal prejudices and lifestyles are flagged up. The clever use of not having names for the cast, just juror numbers, makes it less personal as we delve into the lives and the thinking behind the reasons the jurors give as to why the boy is guilty or not guilty.
12 Angry Men is a clever film in having twelve very different characters and personalities, all put together in the same room, with the power of an 18 year olds life in their hands. Each actor manages to bring his own perfect qualities to his character, in the face of the huge responsibility the jurors face and the question of right and wrong, which is still very relevant today. Even down to the way they walk when leaving the jury room and the court, or how they sit around the jury table, each character is different.
Here are twelve reasons why 12 Angry Men is a great film;
Warning: Spoilers are contained below!
Juror #1: The foreman, and head juror, trying to keep everything in order. He gives his opinions very sheepishly, and never tries to take control when the other jurors are debating.
“Just because I am trying to keep things organised?”
Juror #2: Begins very quietly, but eventually finds his voice. A perfect show of passive listening and rational thought.
“You can’t send someone off to die on evidence like that.”
Juror #3: The antagonist of the film. Loud, arrogant and convinced that the boy should be found guilty; a great opposite to Henry Fonda. The falling out he had with his son comes into play during the film, which is represented in his anger at the boy on trial. A scene at the end of the film when he rips up a photo of him and his son and begins crying is heartbreaking to watch.
“We’re trying to put a guilty man in the chair where he belongs!”
Juror #4: One of the last to be convinced that a reasonable doubt could be possible. Concerned only with the facts, and avoiding any unnecessary talk, he is a model of stern thought and action.
“Frankly, I can’t see how you can vote for acquittal.”
Juror #5: Compassionate and thoughtful, the only juror who grew up in a slum similar to the one lived in by the boy on trial. One of the more emotional jurors, and one of the first to be convinced of a reasonable doubt.
“Listen, you can’t talk to me that! Who do you think you are?”
Juror #6: Respectful of everyone on the jury, and one of the first to stand up to the other jurors when they do not let others speak. He is especially protective of the eldest man on the jury. He is also the only juror to raise the question to juror 8 that perhaps he will talk them into voting not guilty when the boy really is guilty.
“Supposing you talk us all out of this, and the kid really did knife his father?”
Juror #7: A sleazy character who makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be there, and he gets more annoyed as the jurors change their votes. Continues to make jokes and mess around, convinced that they should all just give the same verdict so they can get home quickly. His personality doesn’t change throughout the film, and he is always the quickest to move around in his attempts to get out of the jury room.
“I honestly think the guy’s guilty. Couldn’t change my mind if you talked for a hundred years.”
Juror #8: The protagonist of the film, and the first man in the jury to vote not guilty and explain the possibility of a reasonable doubt to the boy’s guilt. He doesn’t say that the boy is not guilty, he just says that he isn’t sure. His calm, relaxed approach to the other jurors counteracts well against the bullying juror 3. One of the best roles that Henry Fonda has played, and a show of human decency.
“You want to see this boy die because you personally want it, not because of the facts.”
Juror #9: The oldest jury member, a very wise and thoughtful man. He is observant towards people, both during the trial and in the jury room. One of the first to support juror 8 in his arguments for a reasonable doubt.
“Do you think you were born with a monopoly on the truth?”
Juror #10: Loud and pushy, juror 10 is as bullying as juror 3, but he shouts a lot more. He is also a racist, and cannot understand why the other jurors would think someone as common as the boy on trial could be innocent. One of the greatest scenes in the film is when juror 10 gives a speech about how terrible the boy and his type of people are, and all of the other jurors in turn stand up and turn their backs to him.
“You can’t believe a word they say, you know that. I mean, they’re born liars.”
Juror #11: The most polite member of the jury, and also a thoughtful member. He thinks through everything, and contributes whilst also listening to others.
“Why is this such a personal trial for you?”
Juror #12: The member of the jury who doesn’t know what to think, and is constantly saying he isn’t sure. Often the first to try and break any tension with a wisecrack saying, and also the only juror member to change his vote more than once.
“I told you, I don’t know.”
All images courtesy of United Artists.