The next movie on my 2007 AFI top 100 movie is 12 Angry Men. When other bloggers saw that this was up next, many made comments that it was a great movie, but that it would make me mad. I knew that this movie would upset me and not just because it is a thought-provoking movie. Several years ago I sat on a jury in Boston. It was a juvenile case. The defendant was 12 or 13 and poor. He was charged with armed robbery. Here’s the story, a group of boys approached another child in his driveway. One had a BB gun that looked real, hence the armed robbery bit. The owner of the gun showed it to the boy by lifting his shirt to reveal that he had it tucked in his pants and demanded that the victim give them his motorbike. Several members of this group were convicted. The defendant in this trial was charged since he was friends with the group of boys who held up the boy with the motorbike. The boy who was held up couldn’t remember all who was involved since he was terrified. In the trial I witnessed, the victim was not able to identify the defendant. The prosecution did not have any fingerprints. The only evidence they provided was that he was friends with the group that was already convicted. If I remember correctly, the other convicted boys had left behind evidence, including fingerprints and they were in possession of the bike. The defendant’s attorney did not provide any witnesses and didn’t provide any defense at all. As soon as the prosecution rested, he rested his case. It took half a day.
As it turned out, I was one of two alternates on the jury. The two of us were sent to a separate room while the jury members deliberated. As soon as I entered the room the other gal stated that she thought he was not guilty since there was no evidence. I readily agreed. We both didn’t know if he was innocent, but we believed that there were no facts to convict. The prosecution did not prove its case. The jury took over two hours to make a decision. I didn’t hear the verdict until I was back in the courtroom. My jaw hit the floor when I heard the word: guilty. I couldn’t believe it. Then I found out that one person did not want to render a guilty verdict. However, another member of the jury convinced the rest of the group that since the defendant didn’t have shoelaces in his shoes that he was already in jail for another crime so he must be guilty of this crime as well. This was not entered as proof during the trial, it was simply this man’s observation during the proceedings. The woman who did not want to convict gave in and during the reading of the verdict she was in tears. Also I found out that the judge kept sending someone to the room to ask if they were done yet. It was after 5pm when the verdict was given. Afterwards, while the bailiff was escorting us out of the courtroom he said, “I didn’t think they proved he was guilty. But so you know, he’s been charged with another crime so I think it is okay you convicted him on this one.”
Did I mention that the victim was a white boy and the defendant was black? I never thought I would witness this in my lifetime. It really shocked me and made me angry. When I left the courtroom that cold winter night the temperature was below zero. However, I ended up walking quite a bit on the way home to help clear my head. This was not how I thought the American jury system worked in the 21st century.
Now the movie. The movie 12 Angry Men was released in 1957 and it received critical praise. Yet it was a disappointment at the box office. Some think this was because color movies were the rage and this movie is in black and white. It was nominated for three academy awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay. It lost in all three categories to the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, which is number 36 on the top 100 list. However, when it started to air on television it garnered an audience. In the United Kingdom, the movie was the second most watched film in secondary schools in 2011. The 1976 British musical Bugsy Malone was number one.
The film takes place mostly in the jury room while 12 men deliberate if a man should be found guilty or acquitted of murder. The defendant is from the slums and is accused of murdering his own father. The issue is reasonable doubt. Can all 12 men say that without a doubt the man is guilty? All of them have to agree one way or the other. When they cast their first vote, Juror Number 8 (Henry Fonda) is the only one who votes not guilty. When asked why he voted this way, he says that since a man’s life is riding on the decision he believes that the jurors should talk about the case before deciding. This angers several of the jurors, especially Juror Number 7 (Jack Warden) since he has tickets to the baseball game that night.
As the men talk through the evidence several prejudices arise. At one point Juror Number 10 says the following about people from the slums, “They get drunk… oh, they’re real big drinkers, all of ’em – you know that – and bang: someone’s lyin’ in the gutter. Oh, nobody’s blaming them for it. That’s the way they are! By nature! You know what I mean? VIOLENT!” To add to the tension, they are deliberating on one of the hottest days of the year. The temperature not only rises outside but inside the jury room. One of my favorite lines of the movies is uttered by Juror Number 9, “ I don’t think the kind of boy he is has anything to do with it. The facts are supposed to determine the case.” However, this logic is counter by Juror Number 3 who says, “Don’t give me that. I’m sick and tired of facts. You can twist ‘em anyway you like, you know what I mean?”
While I watched this film I kept thinking of the time when I was in the jury box. From what I experienced, this movie is an accurate depiction of what it is like being on a jury. The writing is absolutely superb and the acting is phenomenal. Even the moments when no one is talking I could feel the tension in the room. I have always loved courtroom dramas and I have to say that this is one of the best ones I have seen. I will warn you though, it will make you think and it might make you angry.