12 angry men cramped into a stuffy room, arguing on the ‘hottest day of the year’ does not exactly seem like a promising watch. It is nearly impossible to keep a single location – dialogue driven plot interesting . But, in this case, the 95 minute long movie is a huge success.
12 Angry Men is a courtroom drama, where 12 jurors debate on whether or not a young man is guilty of murdering his father.
12 Angry Men : The Conflict
We see very little of the trial – just the monotonous drone of the judge asking the jury to provide an unanimous decision and a single shot of the accused, a young boy who immediately gains our sympathy. But as the 12 men shuffle into the room and start talking, it becomes apparent that they all believe him to be guilty. Or so it seems… until the ballot is taken.
Juror No. 8 is the only one who holds out. He refuses to make a decision that would take the life of a boy without discussing it thoroughly first.
What follows is a battle of wills, as eleven men try convincing this one man why the boy is guilty. They start laying out the evidence and witnesses, all the while growing impatient with their desire to get this trial over and done with.
The 12 "Angry" Men, and the Men they are
During these arguments we gather an insight into each man’s character. It’s a very strange feeling to watch 12 people with different temperaments interact with each other when cooped up together in a single room. It becomes apparent that some of them rely less on logic and evidence, but on their own deep-seated prejudices and emotional pasts to make their decisions.
We know about the evidence only when they discuss it. Some, rambling garbled versions, and some, providing meticulous details. Thereby, reinforcing their characters. Even the angle in which the switch-blade knife is held in is imitated and debated about in great length. The gait of the witness – an old man, is imitated, to speculate if he could have got there in time to witness the murderer escape as he alleged.
Turn of the Tide
As the discussions (read full blown arguments) continue, the vote begins to shift. Most of them begin to see reason in Fonda’s (Juror No. 8) arguments and shift their vote. But we also have an almost idiotic loudmouth, Juror No. 7, who merely changes his vote as he has tickets to a baseball game that night and wants to hurry things up. Soon the ballot hangs 11 to 1; the other way around! We see this last Juror fight against all logic offered, refusing to change his decision because of his personal conflicts.
Finally he breaks down, battling some emotional trauma from the past. They unanimously conclude that the boy is “indeed not guilty”. But, what sets this movie apart is its almost non existent epilogue. Divulging further is straying into extended spoiler territory, and that I shall not do!
Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men is a well shot, timeless masterpiece. A must watch for anyone who like themselves stories. Engaging and tightly penned.