They have twelve scraps of paper… Twelve chances to kill!
Thus reads the tagline of one of the greatest movies of all time – 12 Angry Men. 12 Angry Men is a 1957 American drama film written by Reginald Rose. It follows the story of a jury of 12 men as they decide on the guilt of a boy accused of the murder of his father, based on one man’s suggestion of ‘reasonable doubt’. The movie stars Henry Fonda as the main protagonist, the pivotal person in changing the minds of the jury. It is famous for being a ‘bottle movie’, meaning that it was shot entirely using a single set of a room, except 3 minutes. It is also notable for the fact that it uses no names throughout, and the people go by the tag of Juror number 1, Juror number 12, etc.
When a young boy from a slum is accused of stabbing his father to death, a jury will have to vote on his guilt or innocence. The verdict of the jurors’ decides whether the boy will be awarded a death sentence or not. The men have not met each other before, and are completely neutral to the case. The initial scenes show us the various personalities of the jurors, one of them a stubborn business man with a hot temper, one of them an old wise man and so on. All but one, juror #8, is convinced of the boy’s guilt. Henry Fonda, as juror #8, does an amazing job at convincing the other people to consider for a moment the possible fact that the boy might be innocent, because there is reasonable doubt.
The movie shows how some of the jurors do not realize what an important task rests on their hands, such as Juror 7 who wants them to vote as quickly as possible so that he could go to a baseball game. Several of the jurors have prejudices against the boy, which makes them vote him guilty. Some of them think there is sufficient evidence to prove his guilt. As another vote is called for, our protagonist now has company in his opinion that the boy may be innocent. The film progresses with the protagonist beautifully taking every piece of evidence and proving how it does not after all contribute to the boy’s guilt. One by one, the votes for the boy’s innocence get racked up.
The evidences are disproved one by one by various members of the jury, notably being Juror #8. The fact that a sentence could not have been heard because of the noise of a nearby train, the inability of a man who had had a stroke to run a few feet in the time that he claimed, the impossibility of the accused to have stabbed his father due to his height, are all brought out beautifully in a way that makes us go ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’. Even the strongest of the evidence, the fact that a woman saw the boy in the act, is disproved by the trivial thing that she could not have seen it clearly as she was not wearing her eyeglasses.
At this point, all the jurors have changed their vote to not guilty, with the exception of the stubborn business man, Juror #12. It is revealed that he has a general hatred for one’s children, his own child having gone away from his house and not having returned. It is this prejudice which made him vote strongly against the accused. At last though, his truth and emotion get the better of his anger, and he sobs out ‘Not guilty’. The last scene shows the jurors leaving the room to resume their normal lives.
The movie has been critically acclaimed and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress. The film made different impacts on the people who saw the movie. The biggest impact it made on me was how a man stood up for what he believed in even if he had to stand alone. The sheer courage that he displayed in asking everyone else to reconsider was exemplary. He realized that the fate of a young boy rested partly on him and was determined to do all he could to do the right thing. Ultimately, there is nothing more wrong that not doing what is right.