Twelve Angry Men

Film Review

“Twelve Angry Men”, starring Henry Fonda, was released in 1957. I was first introduced to this story, and later the movie, in a high school literature class and I was actually quite fascinated with how the storyline flows smoothing from then to present-day.

The film examines the twelve men’s deep-seated personal prejudices, biases and weaknesses, indifference, anger, personalities, unreliable judgments, cultural differences, ignorance and fears, that threaten to taint their decision-making abilities, cause them to ignore the real issues in the case, and potentially lead them to a miscarriage of justice.

“Twelve Angry Men” obviously refers to the jury of all male, mostly middle-aged, white, and generally middle class men. They are brought together to examine the ‘facts’ in a murder trial and are entrusted with the power to send an uneducated, teenage Puerto Rican boy to the electric chair for killing his father with a switchblade knife. They are locked into a small, claustrophobic rectangular room on a stifling summer day until they can unanimously decide whether the boy is guilty or not guilty.

One brave juror votes ‘not guilty’ at the start of deliberations due to his reasonable doubt of the case presented. He forces the other men to reconsider and review the shaky case and eyewitness testimony against the defendant. He chastises the system for giving the defendant an inept court-appointed attorney who is less than thrilled to be working the case and inadequately cross-examines the witnesses.

The jury deliberations are filled with heated discussions, the formation of alliances, the frequent re-evaluation and changing of opinions and votes, the revelation of personal experiences, insults, and outbursts.

The film shows how many jurors are picked with many prejudices and opinions before the case is even heard. It is also a very stereotypical jury; an all-white, all-male, middle class cookie-cutter group of people. The men in the movie, much like jurors today, are more concerned with getting on with their lives that they lose sight of the fact that they have power over someone else’s life.

Unfortunately we have a judicial system that is flawed and not enough time is spent on picking jurors who have an open mind for the facts. Attorneys are more concerned with whom they think will give the vote they are looking for, or possibly hang the jury. As I stated at the beginning I think this movie mirrors that section of the judicial system even 45+ years later, with the exception that nowhere will you find a jury composed of only white, middle class males. There is more diversity in today’s juries, however only because law dictates it and the people who are chosen are picked as a ‘pawn’ for the lawyers to play one way or the other and sway the vote to their advantage.

Although the movie can be fairly slow-paced and is not action-packed, I think it is still very much relevant to government today and is worth the time to sit down and watch.