23 August, 2014 / Shawwal 26, 1435

Weekly Classics: 12 Angry Men

Published May 04, 2012 02:57pm

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In the intense atmosphere of a crowded, hot room, 12 jurors wrestle with the decision of sending a young man to his death.

The movie, 12 Angry Men (1957) is a drama which takes place inside a court-house where a jury must decide the verdict of a murder trial. They are stuck because one of them (Henry Fonda) will not take the decision lightly.

This classic film, directed by the recently deceased Sidney Lumet, was initially a television play from 1954 written by Reginald Rose. The film is a direct adaptation, and still retains the feeling of a theatrical performance (all but three minutes of it takes place in the same room). The film has been very successful and influential. It has also inspired remakes and adaptations, on television, on stage and even other movies - including an Indian remake, titled “Ek Ruka Hua Faisla”.

The movie lives on as a timeless classic because of the profound subject matter that it deals with, and the grave conundrum in the plot. It is an engrossing exploration of many themes such as human prejudices, class barriers, moral fortitude, and justice. In 2007 it was selected for preservation in the US Library of Congress

The film was constrained to one set, not just to make it realistic or minimalistic, but also to create a strong sense of drama, tension and claustrophobia. The 12 actors do an excellent job of creating this atmosphere, and we soon find ourselves so absorbed that we can feel the heat in the room, the tension in the air and the burden on their shoulders.

Lumet actually had the actors stay in the same room for extended rehearsals. They did their lines repetitively in unrecorded takes. This was done in order to give them a real taste of claustrophobia and friction after being stuck in a room with the same people. The technique was very successful because the resulting film conveys a very strong and accurate portrayal of close conflict between people. In fact, the movie is actually used as an illustration of team dynamics and conflict resolution techniques in various academic and business institutions.

The sense of constricting space is also created with cinematography in this film; Lumet continues to use longer and longer focal lengths as the film goes on, making the frames tighter, the angles lower, and forcing the perspective to shrink. You can observe this yourself when you notice that in the beginning the view from the window looks far away, but towards the end of the film, this same view looks flatter and closer, creating a sense of less space even outside the room itself.

The story takes place in New York, and starts out with a courtroom where a young 18-year-old is being tried for allegedly stabbing his father to death. The trial is closing and final statements are being presented. With the facts laid out on the table, the judge then instructs the jury to decide whether the boy is guilty of murder. If he is found guilty, he will be hanged.

The 12 men of the jury then move to a private room and get acquainted with each other. The room is hot, and almost all of them look unhappy and impatient. We soon get the impression that most of them have already decided that the boy is guilty, and that they don’t really consider the matter worth discussing. However, when they take a vote and tally it, there is one exception; It turns out that Juror 8 (Fonda) is not convinced and has voted “not guilty”.

To the great chagrin of his peers, he declares there is too much at stake, and that he wants to discuss the case before voting again. This is where the conflict begins.

Throughout the rest of the film we witness the jury arguing and tussling over the matter. There is a mixture of contempt, impatience, and frustration from them as they fail to reach a unanimous verdict.

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Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb and E.G. Marshall in a scene from 12 Angry Men.

Juror 8 makes his case to them: he says that the evidence is circumstantial, the witnesses are weak, and that there is not enough to condemn the boy to a death sentence because there is reasonable doubt of the his guilt. He seems to have made little progress however, until another (this time secret) ballot reveals otherwise.

The argument grinds on and slowly we see the different mindsets of all the jurors. We begin to see all the reasons that led them to jump to conclusions; from impatience and prejudice, to personal ghosts and anger.

As all these reasons start to peel away, the angry men in the room start to come face to face with them. By the time the drama reaches a climax, both the jurors and the viewer can sense that this trial is not just about a boy, but about our humanity as a whole.

In the end, the film reflects on a lot of issues that America was facing in that time and many that it still faces today. Moreover these problems, such as immigration, racism, youth violence, social responsibility, and justice as a whole, are not just relevant to America in the 50’s but even to our part of the world today.

Though the movie does sometimes over-simplify issues and exaggerate personalities, it still stands as a great commentary on such issues, and a great representation of their effect on our humanity.

Finally, it also seeks to point out that the discrimination in the justice system that takes place based on class, race, and religion etc. is constantly fuelled by the prejudices and indifference of the majority in society. We are reminded that sometimes, if one person stands up, courageously points out these flaws, and then refuses to compromise even in the face of opposition; he or she can often cause a big difference.

In case you want to see it now, here’s the full version of the movie:

View Dawn.com’s weekly classics archive here.


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Nadir Siddiqui is a photographer and interactive producer at Dawn.com. You can view some of his photography here.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (25) (Closed)


Muhammad
May 04, 2012 04:29pm
Good analysis and a great recommendation. I love this movie. It reflects a lot as how humans behave and why. Unfortunately, in real life one does not witness a relatively quick and clean triumph of fairness over biasedness and prejudices that have built over the years. Perhaps becuase we are not trapped in a room like these 12 men and we abuse our right to escape to a limited reality that suits our likeness.
iqbal khan
May 04, 2012 08:17pm
This movie was shown to us in a managerial grid seminar to describe different types of behaviors which can impact an organization.
pakistani
May 04, 2012 09:15pm
i like sydney lumet Dog day afternoon a classy movie
Gurdeep
May 04, 2012 06:50pm
There is a Hindi/Urdu remake of this too, 'Ek ruka hua faisla' starring Pankaj Kapoor. That is a good one too.
Asad Shairani
May 04, 2012 08:50pm
Impressive list you've been making here. 12 angry men needs no introduction or praise, just like most of Lumet's works. Marvelous movie.
Rajan Mahadevan
May 04, 2012 04:31pm
They don't make movies like this anymore ..... neither in the US nor UK nor anywhere else. It is the Zeitgeist !
Agha Ata
May 04, 2012 06:57pm
Everyone should see this movie.
vivek
May 04, 2012 07:29pm
Thanks for intruducing the original movie. i have seen wonderful adaption EK RUKA HUA RISHTA many times and had no idea that this is also inspired movie.
imi786
May 04, 2012 04:36pm
it looks to be great movie. I will watch
Jack
May 07, 2012 07:01am
You should have also mentioned the complete and utter disregard of the Law, this movie shows. Jury is not allowed under any circumstances to do their own investigation. Also just because you think that maybe a guy just wanted limelight for a brief moment, so he is not a credible witness. Don't get me wrong I have seen the original and he remake of it(Not the Indian), with great regard to the Idea and execution of the Movie. The Juries job is to decide on the given evidence not to question it or interpret it any way you like. This is a Movie and that's all it should be taken as not some standard of moral capacity that everyone in the justice system should abide to, and taking from the comments above me, I think people should know this.
Nadir Siddiqui
May 07, 2012 07:50am
I agree Jack! The film has quite a few plot-holes and inaccuracies with regards to how the legal system works (or doesn't). Certainly it shouldn't be a standard for the processes of court or justice system. What I took away from it, was that it wasn't really attempting to highlight or criticize the systems of the court themselves, instead it was simply using these plot details as a platform for studying the social prejudices and characters of the jurors. For instance perhaps the trial and jury was more metaphorically used as a way of highlighting the "judgements" we all pass in our minds about others in the society who are different from us.
manish
May 04, 2012 05:31pm
it is not only a great movie but a great lesson too. just watch it. i have seen it long back but i always remember that jurors to have prejudices and give decisions on the basis of these.
Siro
May 04, 2012 06:39pm
Awesome movie and a very well done review. Keep up the good work.
Mansoor
May 07, 2012 07:09am
this movie was remade in Hindi by the name "Ek Ruka Hua Faisla" an NFDC production and starred Pankuj Kapoor, S.M.Zaheer amongst others. It was a brilliant move and the highlight of this film was the the single set used for it.
Moeed
May 04, 2012 11:41pm
A classic movie indeed
shakeel
May 05, 2012 12:51am
now you guys are talking about movies with substance, atleast the shots are longer, the script is well written and acting is theatrical. May I suggest few more, Judgement at Nuremberg, Born Yesterday, To kill a Mocking bird, birdman of alcatraz, Inherit the wind. they are all worth watching/
Personal Concerns
May 05, 2012 02:08am
One of the best movies ever made. I have seen it several times and each time I have done so, it has amazed me all the more. Fonda and Cobb's rocking performance adds to it that priceless tone! It is a great review too!
SMA
May 06, 2012 03:44pm
one CLASSIC movie i've ever watched
sana
May 05, 2012 12:01pm
didn't read the article, went straight for your photography...amazing!! a small word but i can't think of any other. in love with your photography!!!!
Elizabeth M
May 06, 2012 07:05pm
This is my favorite movie of all time. John Fiedler played Juror # 2, and I just published his bio. The name of the book is, "What's His Name? John Fiedler: The Man The Face The Voice."
Adil
May 06, 2012 12:24am
The movie was superb even though I saw just the 1997 remake of it,and would watch the older as well as Hindi version too. I also wonder why the pattern and concept of Jury Duty has not been implemented in countries like India and Pakistan. It's always great to bring together perspectives from people hailing from different backgrounds and walks of life.Even though I do fear that class barriers and prejudice etc....may cause hindrance while reaching a fair conclusion if we start giving our citizens such opportunities and responsibilities.
junaid
May 09, 2012 02:27am
strongly agreed with you boy !!!!
K. A. Muhammad
May 06, 2012 06:04pm
K.A.Muhammad, The idea behind this presentation is not to praise the film's production and the unit behind it, or to make known to general public and the presenter that he or she will definitely see or view the movie! The purpose is to assess and find out how many of us have conviction, confidence and courage to stand up like the juror number Eight (Henry Fonda) and face Eleven other jurors with difference of opinion on the same case. Do we as Muslims and or Pakistanis can manifest such a conviction, confidence and courage in face of tough opposition based on similar grounds?
Janjua09
May 08, 2012 06:18pm
A very intersting movie. All of the Pakistani school kids and not to forget all the Pakistani politicians should see this. As it shows the dynamics of a constructive dicision making process which we as a nation lack.
K. A. Muhammad
Jun 04, 2012 02:52am
K. A. Muhammad, Mr. Jack, in the opening shot of the film the presiding judge as the legal guide, before retiring the panel of juror, makes it explicitly clear on the jurors that their verdict has to be "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt". This, as I understand is the normal principle and practice of the law in U.S.A. Now, unless and until the case in question is not discussed and deliberated upon threadbare, how could the jurors reach a "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" verdict! Mind well, none of the jurors go out of the room to make his own investigation, the jurors are confined to a room not to reach a verdict just on circumstantial evidence, but to look into probability and or possibility of reasonable doubt that might in ultimate analysis either save an innocent life or establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of a crime.