“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we’re just gambling on probabilities – we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don’t know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that’s something that’s very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it’s sure.”
’12 Angry Men’, directed by Sidney Lumet in 1957, is an American adaptation of a television drama starring Henry Fonda, Lee J Cobb, Ed Begley and Jack Warden. Following the trial of a young man accused of stabbing his father, twelve jurors gather in a back room to discuss the case and decide the outcome. Eleven of the twelve are convinced he is guilty, but one man, played by Fonda, is less sure and wants more of a discussion. Gradually, the man sway the vote of his fellow jurors as, in the course of thinking through the events, they each decide there is enough doubt to find the defendant not guilty. It’s a claustrophobic, tightly plotted chamber piece, the drama only twice leaving the small room. The film deftly characterises each of the jurors through their preconceptions and their decisions, the script managing to balance both telling the story of the crime and the individual stories of the twelve men. There is also a strong thread of social justice and a progressive approach to race throughout the film. Lumet, over the course of the film, moves the camera closer and closer to the characters, drawing us into their world and denying us escape from the decision they are required to make. It’s a masterpiece of small scale plotting that tells a story with national implications.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a intricate, brilliantly performed and genuinely tense. Watch in a double bill with ‘In the Heat of the Night‘