Movie Review: 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men Trailer

12 Angry Men Summary

In the overheated jury room of the New York County Courthouse, a jury prepares to deliberate the case of an 18-year-old impoverished youth accused of stabbing his father to death. The judge instructs them that if there is any reasonable doubt, the jurors are to return a verdict of not guilty; if found guilty, the defendant will receive a death sentence. The verdict must be unanimous.

At first, the evidence seems convincing: a neighbor testified to witnessing the defendant stab his father from her window. Another neighbor testified that he heard the defendant threaten to kill his father and the father’s body hitting the ground, and then, as he opened his door, saw the defendant running down the stairs. The boy has a violent past and had recently purchased a switchblade of the same type as was found at the murder scene, but claimed he lost it. The knife at the scene had been cleaned of fingerprints.

The jurors at first seem to take the decision lightly. Juror 7 in particular is anxious to catch his tickets to the baseball game. In a preliminary vote conducted by Juror 1, all jurors vote guilty except Juror 8, who believes that there should be some discussion before the verdict is made. He questions the reliability of the witnesses’ testimonies and also throws doubt on the supposed uniqueness of the murder weapon by producing an identical switchblade from his pocket. He says he cannot vote guilty because reasonable doubt exists. With his arguments seemingly failing to convince any of the other jurors, Juror 8 suggests a secret ballot, from which he will abstain; if all the other jurors still vote guilty, he will acquiesce. The ballot reveals one not guilty vote. Juror 3 immediately accuses Juror 5 (who previously said he grew up in the slums like the defendant). As the two bicker, Juror 9 reveals that he changed his vote, respecting Juror 8’s motives and agreeing there should be more discussion.

Juror 8 argues that the noise of a passing train would have obscured the threat the second witness claimed to have overheard. Juror 5 changes his vote, as does Juror 11, who believes the defendant, had he truly killed his father, would not have returned to the crime scene several hours later to retrieve the murder weapon as it had already been cleaned of fingerprints. Juror 8 also points out that people often say “I’m going to kill you” without literally meaning it.

Jurors 5, 6, and 8 further question the second witness’s story by noting his claim that he reached his front door fifteen seconds after he heard the body hit the floor is doubtful as he walked dragging a leg behind him due to a stroke. After looking at a diagram of the witness’ apartment and conducting an experiment, the Jurors determine that there is no way the witness could have made it to his door in such a short space of time. Juror 3 is infuriated, and after a verbal argument, tries to attack Juror 8, shouting “I’ll kill him!”, proving Juror 8’s point about the defendant’s words. Jurors 2 and 6 change their votes; the jury is now evenly split.

Juror 4 doubts the defendant’s alibi of having been at the movies, based on the boy’s inability to recall certain details regarding his alibi. Juror 8 tests Juror 4’s own memory. He is able to remember events from the previous week, with difficulty similar to the defendant. Jurors 2 and 3 debate whether the defendant could have stabbed his much-taller father from a downward angle, with Juror 3 demonstrating on Juror 8 that a downward stab was physically possible, though awkward. Juror 5 then demonstrates the correct way to hold and use a switchblade; highlighting that someone who knew how to use one would always stab underhand at an upward angle against a taller opponent.

Juror 7 half-heartedly changes his vote, leading to an inquisition by Juror 11. Under duress Juror 7 sloppily says he thinks the boy is not guilty. After another vote, Jurors 12 and 1 also change their votes, leaving only three guilty votes. Juror 10 erupts in vitriol regarding the defendant’s ethnicity. The rest of the jurors, except Jurors 4 and 7, stand up to turn their backs to him. When he bemoans that nobody is listening to him, Juror 4 states that he has, and tells him to sit down and be quiet. Juror 10 then walks over to a desk in the corner, now isolated. Juror 8 makes a statement about reasonable doubt before having the rest of the jurors return to the case. When pressed as to why he still maintains a guilty vote, Juror 4 declares that the woman who saw the killing from across the street stands as solid evidence. Juror 12 reverts to a guilty vote.

After watching Juror 4 rub his nose, irritated by impressions from his eyeglasses, Juror 9 realizes that the first witness had the same impressions on her nose as well and was constantly rubbing them, indicating that she wore eyeglasses as well but did not wear them to court out of vanity. The other jurors begin to chime in about this new breakthrough. Juror 8 reasons that the witness, who was trying to sleep when she saw the killing, was not wearing her eyeglasses when it happened and she would not have had time to put them on to get a clear view of the person who did the stabbing, making her story dubious. Jurors 12, 10 and 4 all change their vote, leaving Juror 3 as the sole dissenter.

Juror 3 gives an increasingly tortured string of arguments, building on earlier remarks about his strained relationship with his own son, which is ultimately why he wants the boy to be found guilty. In a moment of rage, Juror 3 tears up a photograph of him and his son before breaking down sobbing. He mutters “not guilty”, making the vote unanimous. As the others leave, Juror 8 helps the distraught Juror 3 with his coat. The defendant is found not guilty off-screen and the jurors leave the courthouse. In a brief epilogue, Jurors 8 (Davis) and 9 (McCardle) introduce each other for the first time by their names before parting.

12 Angry Men Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While this was a hard watch, long and drawn out, it had a lot of value both in how the judicial system works but also this is reality.

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