Movie Review: 12 Angry Men

Details: Released in 1957. About an hour and a half long. Stars Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam.

12 Angry Men is a movie I’ve attempted to watch a number of times, but have walked away from because of waning interest. I finally decided to sit down through the whole thing and was entertained by what I saw.

12 Angry Men is a drama about a jury in a murder case as they decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This is a decidedly American film and having a grasp of how the American legal system works definitely helps in understanding the film.

For starters, we have jury trials for crimes such as murder. That means, that a group of randomly selected individuals from the area are selected to sit and hear lawyers from both sides present evidence as to whether the accused criminal is guilty of their crime or not guilty. Also important to know for this movie is that in a murder trial, if the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, then they can be declared a “hung jury” and a new group of randomly selected individuals will be assembled and the presentation of evidence will occur all over again.

In this film, much of the tension is between convincing those who believe the accused is guilty versus those who don’t and how they continue to try and convince each other. In a way, the film critiques the use of juries and witness testimony and shines a light on the issues that go along with being a juror. For instance, a big source of conflict in the film are the preexisting prejudices jurors bring into the discussion and how that obstructs the truth and their responsibilities as jurors. One juror wants to leave early and doesn’t care if the accused is executed or not. Another juror is blatantly racist, which is interesting as the defendant’s race isn’t expressly disclosed (he looks white though). Another juror displaces anger he has for a family member and places it on the accused. It’s all real issues that I’ve unfortunately seen in real life and that can have deadly consequences for other people.

As an American who has done jury duty before, I felt much of the same tensions during this film as when I was a juror, which is incredible considering that this movie came out over fifty years ago. Some subjects always stay relevant I guess.

Worth a mention is the style of the film. Like Denzel Washington’s Fences, this film takes place primarily in one setting (the jury room) and has little to no music throughout the film. It is driven by the dialogue and it’s not hard to see this as a play. I didn’t do any internet research prior to writing this post so I have no idea if this was adapted from a play. Normally in this kind of movie, performances are theatrical and exaggerated, so as to keep the audience’s attention. Not so here. The performances are generally controlled, which may be boring, but is fitting for the setting as the setting is jury discussion.

Overall, it’s an interesting movie that offers a critique on a real aspect of our society. While I can recommend it for some people, I’m not sure if everyone would enjoy it. It’s a slow, intellectual piece of entertainment that provokes thought and requires the audience to keep up with facts as the jury goes over and discusses the events of the crime. There’s no romance here, but there is drama as these twelve men talk out the case. If any of these things sound interesting to you, I recommend watching it for about ten minutes to see if you like. If not, then walk away.

Score: 6.5/10

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