12 Angry Men is certainly a classic film. It’s one that just about everyone’s heard of and it’s very well known for its quality writing and interesting plot. It holds up very well on a rewatch and is just as engaging as it ever was. The movie manages to stay engaging even with the characters never leaving the main room for the majority of the film. This is definitely how you want to do a jury film and it’s hard to picture any film doing it better.
The case that the 12 Jurors have to rule on involves an alleged murder. Supposedly this kid on trial murdered his father before being captured by the police. The evidence is mainly based around testimony from a lady who saw the murder from a train, and an old man who stepped out of his apartment in time to see the kid run off. When the jurors go into the room to deliberate, 11 of them immediately believe the kid is guilty. They just don’t see how you can go against two direct witness testimonies like that but one juror is not convinced and still has some doubts. Can the 11 convince him to give out a verdict of guilty or can he get them over to his side?
After all, the only way you can rule guilty is if you believe that there is no room for doubt here and that this had to have been what happened. Also, a jury must be unanimous in its decision so if there is one person who disagrees then you have to keep debating until that is no longer the case. After a period of time if no agreement can be made then it is considered a hung jury and a new group will end up being selected.
The movie does a good job of still leaving the case up to your interpretation as the characters disclose their facts. It’s fair to say that one side will appear to be more likely than the other by the end or at least that there has been some established room for doubt. If you still believe that the accused is guilty then that’s fair as well, the film doesn’t really try to force you into saying that one side is flat out wrong or not.
If you’re voting for the side that says the accused is innocent, you do have a lot of things working in your favor. After the characters broke down the testimony from the old man who says he made it to the door in time, it does seem like it would have been difficult to make it to the front door in time. The timeline doesn’t add up without something being different as reported. Likewise the angle of the stab wound was different from how you would expect someone to use it and the train was moving very quickly.
On the side that says he’s guilty, you’ve got the fact that the knife was on the scene of the crime. It seems to be a rare knife although the main character was able to get one which puts that into question. You do have the direct alibi’s of the two witnesses and while the side that says he is innocent would say that they are lying, it’s just as possible that they aren’t and their time limits were off by a few seconds.
So whichever side you pick, there’s some good arguments to be made. The film isn’t really about seeing which side is right though so you won’t find that out by the end. It’s all left rather open which is also fair since in most cases as the jury you’ll never truly know if the person was guilty or not. You just make the ruling as best you can.
As mentioned, the writing is definitely great here. The time really passes by even though it’s 100% dialogue based. The characters may not have names but they all have core personalities. One of the best members was likely the chairman who did his best to make sure that everyone was taking this seriously and working in an orderly fashion. It’s not easy trying to take charge but someone had to do it.
You had the advertiser who was having a good time. He got distracted very easily compared to the others but he didn’t seem malicious or anything. The guy just seemed to always think of new ideas. There’s the main character who really wanted to give the case the importance it deserved. When the others were ready to leave in 5 minutes he held firm. You have to give him a lot of credit for sticking his ground even when he was outnumbered 11 to 1. It’s not an easy thing to have to face the crowd like that, especially with some of them being really tough about the whole thing.
One of them just wanted to go and see his Baseball game after all so he wanted a quick guilty verdict so he could leave. Then you have the one who is really against kids due to some personal issues. These two make this an even tougher situation since they are hardly going to be listening to reason. The film was smart not to make them the only ones on the guilty side though or you’d run the risk of making one side so antagonistic that it doesn’t appear to be a fair fight.
The main reasonable member in that camp was the guy with glasses who likes to look at everything logically. He feels it’s less of an assumption to take the testimonies and evidence at face value as opposed to believing they were all lying and/or incorrect. The best back and forth exchanges are often the debates with him as each side has to carefully take in each item and discuss it thoroughly. That’s exactly how these kind of discussions should go down.
Overall, 12 Angry Men really ends up keeping your attention at all times. It’s really a simple plot when you think about it and this underscores that any plot can make for a great movie if the execution is done well enough. The crew in charge of the movie held nothing back and so this ended up being quite the hit. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to check out a good movie. No matter what genre you may like, this one is just good cinema and can appeal to anyone. I’d be up for more jury based films. It may be tough to beat this one but an attempt should at least be made as there is a lot you can do with this concept.