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Movie Review: Twelve Angry Men

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Twelve Angry Men used to be a CBS television series and then an adapted play written by Reginald Rose. The play dealt with the American justice system during a homicide trial, where the arguments among the jurors highlighted the value of reasonable doubt and the difficulty of reaching a unanimous decision. None of the names of the jurors are known. They are called by their numbers up to twelve. This shows the audience that the jurors that decide the cases could be almost anyone in this country, all with different backgrounds and personalities, which impact the decisions they have to make, and the lives of those accused.

The 1958 film followed from the same premise. This American classic was directed by Sidney Lumet and adapted from the writing of Reginald Rose. The viewers do not see the actual court case, which may prejudice them in favor of one side or another. They are only shown the jury room, where the jury must deliberate on the question of innocence or guilt. If all twelve men do not decide with a majority vote, then there is room for a mistrial because of a “hung jury.” They must judge whether the young man in this case killed his father. If he is found guilty, then his entire life will be ruined. His destiny is in the hands of the jurors, who must consider all the available, but lacking, evidence (such as the defendant’s race, social background, relationship to his father, and location at the time of the incident). They must overcome their own prejudices about these variables to determine a clear and just outcome. If there is even a shred of reasonable doubt, then the jurors cannot vote guilty.

The 1997 film, directed by William Friedkin, used the same basis as the original film. In both movies, the accused is a male who grew up in the ghetto. He will be sentenced with a death sentence if he is found guilty and all the circumstantial evidence appears to be stacked against him. Most of the jurors are confident that the boy killed his father and quickly want to vote that he is guilty. The only juror who does not raise his hand in favor of the verdict is Juror #8 (Henry Fonda/Jack Lemmon), who wants to discuss the issue before concluding for or against the defendant. This lone juror’s decision begins the long process of examining the evidence, questioning the accuracy of the eye-witness testimonies, the supposed murder weapon, the events at the time of the incident, and the prejudices of those who wanted to vote guilty. This film really exposes the imperfections of the justice system, where even one’s socioeconomic background or race can influence the decisions made. Viewers see a wide-spectrum of personalities as the jurors must make the right choice, among the myriad of possibilities, biases, and imperfections in this decision-making process.

Photo source: playbill.com

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