12 Angry Men is a remarkable movie about perspective, prejudice, doubt, and the power of persuasion. It also unfolds almost entirely in one single room. This movie is regarded as one of the best ever made, so I figured it’s about time I check it out. I can say without a doubt that it’s now one of my all-time favorites. The writing, acting and directing are all some of the best movies have to offer, even though this one is almost 60 years old. What it says about the power of one person to bring about change is a universal message, and makes this movie feel truly timeless.
12 Angry Men begins at the end of a trial. An 18 year old boy is on trial for the murder of his father, and if found guilty, will be executed. The ‘angry men’ mentioned are the 12 jurors in this case, and the movie begins as they enter the room to negotiate. The first thing they do upon entering is to put forward an initial vote for their verdicts. Eleven for guilty, one for innocent. The ‘one’ in this case is played by Henry Fonda (also in Once Upon a Time in the West). He tells the jurors that he doesn’t believe either way that the kid is guilty or innocent, but that he has doubts of his guilt. This begins the initial conflict in the movie, as he clashes with all eleven other jurors at first, but they slowly begin to turn each other to a not guilty vote as they each discover holes in the prosecution. It’s set up early on that the kids attorney was basically a Pro-Bono, court appointed lawyer, and that he didn’t do the kids side of the story justice. It’s an incredibly tense, dramatic story, as temperatures rise in the air-condition-less room, begetting short tempers and bursts of rage. The ending was more emotional than I thought it was going to be, as it ties in one of the jurors personal lives as playing into the verdict decision.
The obvious things to point out about 12 Angry Men are that the writing and acting are both superb. To be able to contain 12 characters in one small room, and yet keep the tension, drama and characterizations top notch is a huge accomplishment. Everything unfolds in the dialogue between these men, and all of them stand out in different ways. Again, due to the combination of good writing and acting. Most every character has relatable traits, and until some prejudices are uncovered with one character, both sides are equally understandable. There really are no ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’ in the story, just everyday people. Some people just want to vote and get it over with to go back to their lives (even though they would be sentencing a kid to die) and some of them want to prove there is simply too much doubt surrounding the details of the case to decide the kids fate. It’s an incredibly gripping ride.
Another primary theme 12 Angry Men relies on is that one man can do a lot. Davis, as his name is later revealed to be, is one man standing against eleven in the beginning. Over the course of the movie, he never backs down from his viewpoint, instead using evidence and emotional appeals to slowly bring the others to his side. It says a lot about the power everyone has to sway a majority, as long as you are unwavering in your resolve. The movie is also such an obvious choice for a single-room drama, that it’s amazing nobody has tried to remake this movie in some way. Then again, I could see how many courtroom dramas, or crime films in general derive a lot of their ideas from 12 Angry Men. It’s the best depiction of the struggle and ethical difficulties faced by a jury in any story I’ve ever seen.
That’s about it for 12 Angry Men. I highly recommend this one if you’ve never seen it. I’m pretty embarrassed that it took me this long to see it myself. I think this one is going to mark the beginning of a revisit to older movies for the blog for awhile. Movies that are renowned for being some of the best, but from the 50’s and 60’s or before then. Stay tuned for those coming soon, and thanks for reading!