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'12 Angry Men (1957)'

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'12 Angry Men (1957)'

12 Angry Men, a courtroom drama, was released in 1957 as Sidney Lumet’s directional debut: it was a ground breaking film and led to him being nominated for Best Director in the 30th Academy Awards. It is one of my all-time favourite films and have recommended it to so many people who seem interested up until I tell them it is a black and white film from the 1950s.

But do not let that deter you! The film feels decades ahead of its time: it is an integral watch, especially for law students.

The film starts just as court is adjourned and the jury is let go to deliberate. We learn right away that the case that has just been heard is of an 18-year-old Spanish boy who killed his father, the judge tells the jury that if they find the boy guilty, then he will be sentenced to death - his life lies in their hands.

In the deliberation room, the jury foreman decides to call an initial open vote to see where everyone stands, and in the hope of being able to come to a consensus and go home early. As they go around the room and each juror is called, they all declare the boy ‘guilty’, bar one, Juror #8, portrayed by Henry Fonda. Juror #8 goes on to reason that it’s not that he thinks the boy is not ‘guilty’, it’s that “he just isn’t sure”.

In the next 90 minutes, the 12 jurors recount the case, going over every piece of evidence and every witness testimony, discovering inconsistencies, making them doubt themselves and the actual justice within the American justice system.

At the beginning of the film, most of the jurors seem rather flippant in the way they talked about the case, refusing to process the fact that they are debating real life events. My least favourite juror is not Juror #3, the man who keeps accidently pointing out the inconsistencies in his own arguments, or Juror #10, the man who is motivated primarily by his racial prejudice, but Juror #7. Throughout the film, Juror #7 seems unconcerned with uncovering the truth, he keeps talking about a sports game later that day that he is looking forward to, and when he eventually changes his vote from ‘guilty’ to ‘not guilty’ he states his reasoning as he has “had enough”. This exposes the flaw in having jury duty be mandatory- there will inevitably be jurors who do not want to be there and will just follow the crowd which is absolutely not the way that a juror should conduct themselves.

It could be argued that the way Juror #8 conducted himself was also improper as his stance was very emotionally charged: he felt sorry for the boy who endured abuse from his father his entire life, which may have distorted the way he interpreted the evidence. But maybe jurors should be emotional during the deliberation, it was Juror #8’s sympathetic approach that allowed the others to critically review the evidence and rethink their position.

12 Angry Men is one of those films that you can tell was originally meant for the stage, it is essentially an hour and a half of men sat in a room talking, but it is gripping watching as each juror changes their mind and gets increasingly more frustrated. Every time I go back to watch it, despite the fact that I know exactly what is going to happen each time, my mind continuously gets blown, even the breaks between the deliberation when the jurors casually interact with one another are deeply captivating.

It is such an important film that remains relevant even today, and everyone at least once must take the time to sit down and watch it.

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