Friday, April 13, 2012

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men is a 1957 film starring Henry Fonda which tells the story of a jury deliberating a murder in the first degree trial in which a young immigrant teenager is accused of having stabbed his father to death. At the film's onset, the judge is seen instructing the jurors in the fact that it is their duty to separate facts from fancy and that they must unanimously find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty, the defendant will face a mandatory death sentence. The twelve men leave the court room and congregate in a cramped and sweltering deliberation room. As they sit around a narrow table, the foreman calls for a preliminary vote sure in the fact that it will be a short afternoon and that they'll be out in time for juror #7 to make the evening's baseball game for which he has tickets. The preliminary vote comes back 11-1 with Henry Fonda's juror #8 being the lone descent vote. Soft-spokenly and calmly Juror #8 explains the importance of this vote that could send a young man to the electric chair and admits that while he can't guarantee his innocence, neither can he positively assert his guilt, and that at the bare minimum a man's life merits further discussion.

The other jurors concede this point and decide to each make a case for why they think the boy is guilty. As each point of evidence is discussed, juror #8 questions each and makes valid points for a not guilty vote due to reasonable doubt. As tempers rise, especially that of angry and belligerent Juror #3, he makes a bold offer. He asks for a second secret vote, stating he will abstain from the vote, and if 11 guilty verdicts come back, he will acquiesce and change his vote. The foreman opens each folded piece of paper, reading guilty verdict, after guilty verdict until...not guilty; and so, the discussions continue. As the temperatures rise and a storm brews outside, the men deliberate each "fact" and with them the fate of a young man.

This was a superb film. Henry Fonda was wonderful as soft-spoken juror #8. His bearing and face conveyed the perfect solemnity for his role as the jury's conscience and/or voice of reason. Even the use of his measured voice as he went point by point over each piece of evidence was compelling. Lee J. Cobb was the perfect counter-balance in his role as the stubborn, irrational and explosive juror #3. The give and take between these two great actors added a palpable tension throughout the film, which left you anxiously sitting on the edge of your seat anticipating what would happen next. The raw drama of the film is a praiseworthy fait accompli when you take into account that almost the entirety of the film, with the exception of the opening and closing scenes, were shot in one small cramped room with just 12 men. No fancy props, no explosions, no special effects. A film which gives credence to the statement, "they just don't make 'em like they used to."