A few years back I wrote a post about whether Sidney Lumet was merely a good director instead of a great one. Silly, I know, but I had written the piece based on the Lumet films I had seen up to that point. At the time this did not include either Network or 12 Angry Men. Now that I have caught up with both, most recently 12 Angry Men, I can safely say with confidence that I am an idiot. Okay, maybe that is too harsh a statement, regardless I am man enough to admit when I am wrong.
If there are two films that seem to transcend time, in regards to cultural relevance, it is Network and 12 Angry Men. With respect to the latter, you cannot help but see parallels in 12 Angry Men to our current quick to make judgments culture. Although information is available at the tip of our fingertips thanks to smartphones and tablets, it seems like we are less concerned with the facts and more interested in our own opinions of what we think occurred. This is especially evident when looking at how the rise of social media sites like Twitter has changed how information and opinions are shared. It seems that more and more personal opinion is being misconstrued as fact. Even when actual fact is presented it is sometimes laced with personal bias.
It is this inability to separate our own ideals or misconceptions from actual fact that makes 12 Angry Men such a compelling film. Director Sidney Lumet is not so concerned with the stuff that occurs within the court, in fact he skips it all together, but rather how the information is processed. He ups the stakes by making the jury’s, the twelve angry men in the title, decision a matter of life and death. All that is known at the beginning of the film is that a young man, referred to as The Kid, is on trial for possibly committing murder.
As the jury begins to deliberate, it seems like a clear cut case for most of the jurors as they are prepared for a guilty verdict. However, a preliminary vote reveals that one individual, Juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda), is not convinced that the defendant committed the crime. What follows next is an uphill battle where the lone dissenting voice must plead his point of view while slowly convincing the other jurors to reconsider their vote.
Setting the entire film in a deliberation room on one of the hottest days of the year, 12 Angry Men cranks up the tension as the men struggle to understand why Juror No. 8 will not conform with the rest of the group. As various arguments break out, we start to see the true prejudices that reside within each man. For example, one juror wants a guilty verdict as it means he will be able to make it to the baseball game on time, another believes The Kid is guilty because “his kind” are susceptible to acts of violence. One juror in particular, Juror No. 3 (Lee J. Cobb), seems determined to send the accused to the electric chair at all costs.
It is easy to dismiss the legal side of the film as Juror No. 8 takes several actions, most notably conducting his own investigation regarding the possible murder weapon, which would see him getting thrown off the case. However, the question of guilt or innocence is not as important as the path which is used to get there. 12 Angry Men holds up a mirror and forces the jurors, as well as the audience, to confront their biases bubbling underneath the surface. The film makes strong commentaries on the issues of racism, social class, and the value of the human life.
12 Angry Men is a film that has been reproduced both on stage and screen, not to mention dissected in numerous reviews and articles. Despite all this, the film still manages to pack a punch. Filled with a gripping plot and wonderful performances, 12 Angry Men is an outstanding film that I am ashamed I waited so long to discover.