BP’s Top 100 Challenge #18: 12 Angry Men, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
Full disclosure: 12 Angry Men is my favorite movie. I have never created a top 10 of all-time list for myself but I think 12 Angry Men would be at the top. So, I don’t think that I can be objective about it. I will just spend this article talking about why I love this film so much.
I first saw 12 Angry Men as a play when I was a freshman in high school and I fell in love with it. Then, I sought out the Henry Fonda film and fell in love with that too. I have always had a very romanticized vision of our justice system and would like to believe that every jury takes the time and consideration that we see in the film. I had a recent jury duty experience that gave me an entirely new perspective on 12 Angry Men and the true weight of their decision and it is an experience I would never wish to repeat or be burdened with.
Henry Fonda stars as Juror #8, the only juror willing to go against the majority and consider the possibility that the accused is innocent despite ample evidence to the contrary. His character is certainly an ideal vision of an impartial juror but Fonda makes him feel like a fully fleshed out character. He isn’t just the righteous Juror #8, he is also a father and a thoughtful member of the community. He understands that the Accused has led a difficult life and grew up in a difficult neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean that he is a bad kid, he just has been given a bad break. Maybe I would just like to believe that I would have the same ability to see past someone’s circumstances, but I admire his character a lot.
The film is very theatrical in nature. I know sometimes plays that are turned into films can feel claustrophobic and stuffy but I think that works to 12 Angry Men’s advantage. A jury room is a small space, especially when it is a hot summer day and you have no air conditioning. There are 12 jurors each of which as a singular character trait, but they don’t feel flat to me. Each character has depth and a point of view and the time and reasons that they change their votes feel authentic. Even Juror #7 who flip-flops several times just to appease the group and try to make his baseball game.
There are versions out there of 12 Angry Jurors or 12 Angry Women but I think this story works the best as 12 Angry Men. The personality dynamics and the clashes between them are inherently masculine. There is also something about the dynamic between fathers and sons that is different than the relationships between mothers and sons or daughters. Not that women cannot be aggressive, bigoted, or closed-minded but the monologue at the end given by Juror #3 is very specific to the father-son dynamic. Also given the time that the story is set having the cast be all men makes sense, since women have only been able to sit on juries in all fifty states for a little over forty years.
One of the major things that works for me is the way the jurors tackle the evidence one piece at time. They reenact parts of the timeline and examine evidence and slowly break down the case against the Accused. Each individual juror brings their personal or professional experience to the case and they work together to understand what really happened. The old man, Juror #9, understands one of the witnesses who is trying to be an important part of the case. Juror #4 wears glasses and can speak to how a person behaves when they are near sighted. Juror #5 grew up in the slums and knows how to use a switchblade knife. All those experiences add up to reasonable doubt.
I love this movie and never tire of revisiting it. I am very happy that it is so high on the Battleship Pretension Top 100 list. If you have never seen the film I cannot recommend it enough.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
12 Angry Men ranking: Carrier