AFI #87: 12 Angry Men

There is no denying America is obsessed with crime and punishment these days. There are tons of TV dramas on the air like Law & Order and CSI to help prove the point, but even more so we become transfixed as a nation when we get a particularly engaging event like the recent Casey Anthony trial. We’ve always been interested in law and order…crime shows have been a staple on TV since the beginning and everyone loves a good crime film.

How sure are you that Casey Anthony killed her little girl? I don’t know anyone who thought she was innocent, but the defense provided enough reasonable doubt to make the case she may not have murdered little Cailee. It seemed like a travesty of justice, but we weren’t in the room. If only…

12 Angry Men puts us in the jury room. It was made in 1957 and it serves as a great reminder today that not everything is as it seems when it comes to crime and punishment. So there is an important moral lesson in the film, but it’s also a damn fine courtroom drama with great acting and a compelling story. When the film opens, 12 jurors are walked into the jury room after the trial of a young man accused of killing his father. The jurors settle in and quickly vote to see where they stand…it is 11-1 in favor of conviction with Henry Fonda’s character as the lone holdout. Fonda’s character doesn’t make any assumptions about the case, he simply wants the jury to talk about it before sending a man to the electric chair. Then, little by little, the prosecution’s case falls apart. It’s quite enthralling really. Each juror is like someone you know. One is a hot head, another is a racist, another seems preoccupied with where he has to be rather than the fact that a life hangs on his decision. Aside from the fact it was all men, this is probably exactly how juries are today.

The drama in the room is palpable. It is a hot day and the men are sweating and tired. You can feel the heat through the screen. The whole film takes place in the jury room and you sort of feel like you’re stuck in there with them. Director Sidney Lumet did a great job of creating a mood. I really loved the first long scene in the jury room which was all done in one take with the camera panning around to each juror. Cool stuff.

I wonder if juries take their job as serious today as they did back in the day. The men on this jury worked hard to come to a verdict, and they listened to each other. Sure, there was fighting, but ultimately they all did the right thing. I like to think the Casey Anthony jury, for example, thought through all the details and evidence before coming to a verdict. I’m sure it was hard to let this woman walk, but they did what they thought was right based on the evidence and rule of law. We can bicker all we want about the result, but we weren’t in the room. That’s why 12 Angry Men is such a compelling drama.

Next Up: Platoon

3 thoughts on “AFI #87: 12 Angry Men

  1. I first experienced 12 Angry Men while taking Business Law at Phoenix College in the early 1980s. It made such an impression on me that even now, when everyone around me says there’s no doubt OJ did it, I still wonder. Sure, he probably did it. But I don’t know.

    And as much as it seems certain to nearly everyone that Casey Anthony is guilty, I still wonder. A little bit, anyway. I figure she probably did do it. But I didn’t examine the evidence and I can’t tell if the State of Florida actually proved it beyond all reasonable doubt. Allowing myself to be sad for Callie, I can do. Allowing myself to be upset that Casey was not found guilty, I can’t do.

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