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Sunday, July 12, 2009

12 Angry Men (1957) - One man's fight for justice

The title above may seem like it is describing a man fighting for justice for himself, but in fact, the story is about a man fighting to get proper justice for an accused. In the United States, decisions for criminal cases are supposed to be evaluated by a jury made up of fellow citizens, who listen to the evidence, and its presentation by the prosecutors and by the defense; in the end, the jury has to reach a verdict that the judge follows. The movie hinges on the fact that for serious crimes, the verdict of the 12 member jury has to be unanimous, and if even one juror objects and does not agree to a unanimous verdict, the jury is called a hung trail, with the case being declared as a mistrial. There is pressure on the minority jury members to reach a verdict, else the jury has to sit for as long as it takes to reach a verdict; it is only if the foreman reaches a decision that a unanimous verdict cannot be reached, does the jury get dismissed.

12 Angry Men (1957), English film starring Henry Fonda

The movie is about the murder trial of a teenager from poor and disturbed circumstances, who is accused of killing his father. The presentation of evidence is over, the lawyers have made their arguments, and the jury is now deliberating on the judgment. They have been instructed by the judge that they need to reach a verdict of whether the defendant is guilty of murder or not, and if they do reach a verdict of guilty, then the defendant will be sentenced to a mandatory sentence of death.
When a quick vote is taken, it is found that 11 of the jurors (all 12 are white men) are in favor of a death sentence, only Juror # 8 (Henry Fonda) does not vote guilty. In fact, Henry Fonda is not sure about the guilty or not, but believes that some of the evidence presented is circumstantial, and that the jurors must do a fair deliberation before judging the accused to be guilty (and sending him to his death). And thus, you have an excellent movie where you can see the mood of the jury (and individual jurors), as they go through the evidence, deliberate, and review their vote. Jurors change their votes depending on the evidence they hear during the discussion, with a few of them reversing their votes, and one of them voting guilty only because he is bigoted. Eventually, all of them change their vote to Not Guilty.
The movie was based almost entirely in one room, through the deliberations by the jury members, excepting for a couple of scenes in a washroom, and beginning and closing scenes on the steps of the courtroom. The movie did not so well commercially, but has now been recognized as a classic movie, with the role of Juror # 8 being one of the top 50 heroes.

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