The first time I watched 12 Angry Men was in my Classic Films class in High school. I was immediately drawn to it for a couple reasons. One example is that it is all filmed in one room, and the filming technique creates a feeling of claustrophobia, especially when tensions rise between the jurors. The underlying message in this film challenged my way of thinking. It reminded me that the use of level-headed discussion is the best way to reach a conclusion, and that while I might be bias, in some situations, I should not let my bias get in the way of an important decision.
12 Angry Men, written by Reginald Rose and directed by Sidney Lumet, released on April 10, 1957. The initial release of 12 Angry Men was a failure, nobody went to see it and very few people even knew it existed. Nowadays many film critics and everyday people consider 12 Angry Men to be a masterpiece of American cinema. It is one of the most perfect examples of how beautiful a film can be if it focuses on story, character, and conflict. Working with Lumet was cinematographer Boris Kaufman, who had previously won an Academy Award for his other work uses camera angles to tell the story of this film. 12 Angry Men also has some of the best arguments put on film which gives some comic relief to the heavy situation that they are deliberating on.
One aspect of 12 Angry Men that sets it apart from most courtroom films, is that it never explicitly states whether the defendant is innocent or guilty. It is about whether the jury has reasonable doubt about his guilt. 12 Angry Men is a timeless study of the justice system and the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” while also being a courtroom drama without the courtroom. According to Investopedia, “Reasonable doubt” is the highest standard of proof that must be exceeded to secure a guilty verdict in a criminal case in a court of law. Clear and convincing evidence is somewhat less rigorous as it requires that a judge or jury be persuaded that the facts of the case as presented by one party represent the truth. Initially, the jury is quick to send the defendant to the electric chair so that they can go on with their lives, especially Juror #7 since he has tickets to the baseball game that evening. The majority of the jurors believe that there is enough evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty. However, Juror #8 questions not only the intentions of the other jurors but also the validation of the witnesses.
The entire film takes place in a small New York City jury room, on the hottest day of the year as twelve men debate the fate of a young Hispanic defendant charged with murdering his father. The viewers do not see much of what happens in the courtroom, they just see the judge announce what the charges are and then the jurors go to a separate room for deliberation. When the jurors vote for the first time, eleven of them raise their hands quickly to send the boy to his death, but one of them (Juror #8) has doubts. At first, Juror #8 says that he just wants to talk about the verdict because they are about to send an eighteen-year-old kid to the electric chair, and he does not feel right about that without having a conversation first. The jurors then vote for a second time leaving Juror #8 out of it, and in that second vote another juror (Juror #11) steps up and votes not guilty. It is important to note that the names of Jurors #8 and #11 are the only names revealed at the end of the film, Juror #8’s name is Mr. Davis and Juror #11’s name is Mr. McCardle. The two jurors portray individuals with the least amount of bias in the film therefore, their conscious forces them to be the ones to bring up the misleading evidence that was presented to them during the trial. The second vote of “not guilty” leads to more conversation and deliberation amongst the jurors. There are multiple pieces of evidence and scenarios that Juror #8 brings up things, including controversial evidence in this case. For example, one of the biggest pieces of evidence used against the young man on trial is the ‘unique’ knife that was used to kill his father. A store owner reported selling the same type of knife to the boy a few hours before the murder. However, Juror #8 proves that the knife is not as unique as everyone says it is, when he pulls out an exact replica and slams it down on the table. Juror #8 said that he could not sleep the night before, so he went for a walk and saw it in a store, so he bought it.
The longer the deliberation goes on, the more the audience realizes that Jurors #3 and #10 are just vindictive men and want to send the young man to the electric chair for their own personal reasons. When things boil over, as they frequently do, the jurors treat the audience to some great arguments. A lot of the arguments are brought on by the character archetypes in the film. 12 Angry Men is full of archetypes such as the racist, the wise old man, the slick executive, and the quiet bank worker. The men act exactly as the audience would expect them too, which is interesting because it brings a sense of reality into the film.
To me, a classic film is a film that has stood the test of time. In my opinion, there are many aspects about 12 Angry Men that make it a classic film. One being the masterful use of camera angles. As the film moves through the highs and lows of emotions, the camera shadows the ups and downs of the story. It goes from a high vantage point to eye level of the characters, to below the characters tilting upwards to emphasize the struggles. The wide objective view of the camera in the beginning, narrows into close ups as the film progresses, details the frustration and passion of the jurors. Another reason 12 Angry Men serves as a classic film is because it is a study of prejudice that does not come across as preachy in the slightest. There is prejudice against people of color, against class, and against professions that all come to light during their deliberation. When one juror’s prejudice is brought to light, it is immediately challenged by the other jurors. The prejudices do not take away from the film because they are quickly shown, discussed, and shot down. I would say that they add to the film by giving the audience insight into why that specific juror is set on his vote of guilty or not guilty as well as why that juror is acting in such a manner. 12 Angry Men is a phenomenal film that people from all generations would learn something from. Initially, it was engaging to me because I thought it was funny, however I found the underlying messages in the film to be very important.