12 Angry Men (1957) was Sidney Lumet's directorial debut. The story is set in New York in the fifties. An 18-year old Puerto-Rican kid raised in a slum is tried in court for stabbing his own father to death with a knife. Since he is a poor kid who clearly is unable to afford a good lawyer, he has a court-appointed public defender, who fails do his job well. After the defense and prosecution have rested, the judge routinely reminds the jurors that, in the practice of the law of the time, a guilty verdict would in this case make the death penalty mandatory. With this in mind the twelve jurors withdraw to their chamber to find a just verdict based on what they'd heard in court. It is the hottest day of the year. The jurors, all of which are white males, are exhausted from following the trial proceedings, and many of them long to go home. It seems like a routine case. Nothing much to discuss – the case seems open and shut. Or does it?
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A valid verdict would have to be unanimous. But when the twelve men take their first preliminary vote only eleven are in favor of guilty while Juror # 8 (Henry Fonda) dissents. Contrary to the pervasive attitude among the jurors, he feels that the case requires more deliberation and discussion simply because a human life is at stake. Should there be reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused, it would be irresponsible to send the youth to the gas chamber.
Juror # 8's standing up against the routine, indifferent attitude of his peers represents the ethical stance of an individual mature enough to live up to the ideal of justice based on a democratic trial-by-jury system. His peers, by contrast, represent the status quo of contemporary society – which does not quite live up to this ideal. Though they put pressure on him, his firm stance and the formal circumstances of the situation forces them to defend their stance – and reveal the lack of sound reflection and the pervasiveness of prejudice behind their initial conviction that the case against the accused had been ‘proven' by the prosecution. It reveals also how easily their opinions can be manipulated even against their own values buried deeply within.
It is only when Juror # 8 forces a discussion of the case that the group begins to take their jury task seriously and analyze the evidence presented to them. During the discussion, many personal and societal prejudices are revealed that are obvious obstacles to an objective and fair verdict. Others juror openly claims that you generally cannot believe or trust anyone from the social milieu of the accused – his basis for rejecting the kid's own account of what happened the night his father was killed. In addition, while being theoretically aware that a reasonable doubt is sufficient to support a verdict of not guilty, some jurors seem to be mixed up as to how this information applies to their task.
One by one, Juror #8 begins to scrutinize every bit of evidence that the prosecution has presented: He demonstrates that the murder weapon that had been identified in court as belonging to the accused turns out to be not as unique as the prosecution had claimed and thus could have belonged to someone else. He shows that the testimony of the two eye witnesses is contradictory, as one has claimed to have heard the killing while the other to have seen it from across the street through two windows of a train that is generally known to be so noisy that it swallows up all other sounds. In this way, he is eventually able to gradually turn around his peers and open up their eyes to the weaknesses of the evidence presented in court and interpreted by the prosecution as ‘facts'. One by one, the jurors begin to see that there remains reasonable doubt whether the accused is guilty. The question remains, however, whether a unanimous verdict can be eventually reached.
The review of this Movie prepared by Dorothea Lotter
12 jurors come into the hot jury room with a broken fan to decide whether an 18-year-old Latino is guilty of murdering his father. The evidence is hard: there are witnesses who heard the young man threaten his father with death, and witnesses who heard him run away after the murder had taken place. A neighbor saw the murder through the window. The weapon, a knife of a rare kind, matches that owned by the defendant. The young man's alibi is not confirmed: he claims to have been at the movies, but no one remembers seeing him at the movie theater, and he himself can't even remember what movie he watched.
The case is so clear that the jurors decide to vote right away. The vote turns out to be 11 to 1. One man disagrees. Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda, wants to at least discuss the case. If found guilty, the young man will be automatically executed, and Juror #8 finds it hard to send him to his death just like that. There is, after all, such a thing as reasonable doubt.
The discussion begins. Most of the jurors are not happy with the #8's troublemaking. The evidence is clear, and his objections are mostly of speculative nature. Juror #10 is a racist who thinks that a Latino born and raised in a ghetto is guilty by definition. Juror #3 thinks he is always right and is infuriated to see his opinion contradicted. Juror #7 has tickets for a baseball game this night and just wants to get out. However, led and persuaded by #8, they start looking into the case. Juror #8 picks the evidence apart, showing how it is still possible that the young man is not guilty. Among other things, they look at the knife; it appears that Juror #8 is cornered when everyone agrees that the knife is very unique and nobody else can have one like it. However, #8 turns the tables by pulling an identical knife out of his pocket; he had (illegally) bought it at a pawn shop, to prove that, although indeed rare, other knives like that do exist. Tension builds; more jurors are taking #8's side. The movie ends with unanimous “Not Guilty” vote.
The review of this Movie prepared by Laura Southcombe
Twelve men find themselves together in a New York jury room on a humid summer's day, there to decide the fate of a teenage boy accused of killing his father. All but one are convinced of the boy's guilt. Voices are raised and tempers flare as integrity and fairness are put on trial. Personal lives, fears and prejudices are all exposed as one brave man pursues justice in the face of opposition. Will truth and justice win the day?
The review of this Movie prepared by Dave Kernick