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12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men  

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  1. 1. Does this belong on the AFI list

    • Guilty! Of being a great movie
      6
    • Not guilty! Of being a great movie
      0

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  • Poll closed on 04/03/20 at 07:00 AM

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Amy & Paul deliberate over 1957's Sidney Lumet jury-room drama 12 Angry Men! They ask if all-male juries were ever common, compare Lumet's version to William Friedkin's remake, and praise the powerful performances in this ever-relevant film, Plus: Jury consultant Marissa Beyers talk about how jury selection has evolved since the 50s.

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This seems like a bit of a no-brainer for me. Seems like this is a movie that every American should see.

I've argued against movies before that seem like they are just "filmed plays," but for this one I think Lumet displays such creative and interesting strategies for filming a single room without ever letting it feel stagy or uncinematic. It's really quite a feat.

I notice a lot of modern masters using similar strategies when filming interior dialogue scenes: Spielberg, Tarantino, Fincher. They probably took a lot from this movie.

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One fair criticism is that this isn't really a good portrayal of what can actually happen in a jury room. Fonda's character definitely gets away with a lot that wouldn't be allowed (how did he manage to get a switchblade knife into a courtroom?). But I mostly forgive that for the sake of dramatic license.

I also find it interesting how this movie seems really ahead of the curve on how aggressive police procedures can result in false convictions -- not necessarily out of any kind of far-reaching conspiracy, but just because the cops tend to be very biased in favor of thinking the guy they arrested is guilty and will pressure witnesses into testifying as much. Basically, to accept the theory proposed in the movie, you have to accept that witnesses like the woman and old man neighbors didn't really see the man they thought they saw, and that it's plausible that the defendant really didn't remember what movie he saw or what happened to his knife. Except, now we know that's totally possible! People make all kinds of false statements under police interrogation.

The only fault in the movie's construction I can think of is that it never really offers up a plausible alternate reason the father was killed, other than that they lived in a rough neighborhood where violence was common. Maybe they could have mentioned that he had a lot of gambling debts or something.

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6 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

Fonda's character definitely gets away with a lot that wouldn't be allowed (how did he manage to get a switchblade knife into a courtroom?). But I mostly forgive that for the sake of dramatic license.

Yes, I mentioned similar on my Letterboxd review, though I am a bit less forgiving (though I still think the film is brilliant and should be on the list).

I mean, a jury should not be bringing in their own investigation and facts. That's not their role, and shouldn't be! In fact, if they did that regularly, the whole justice system would probably fall apart. Lawyers, judges, juries: each have their own necessary function, and this jury in this movie takes on all three roles. It's kind of bizarre and the one thing I can't fully get my head around it, or why it was necessary to write that way.

I liked hearing about the history of juries from Amy, because these 12 old men judging some kid bugged me too, but I guess that was part of the times and how it probably was then. 

 

 

 

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37 minutes ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

One fair criticism is that this isn't really a good portrayal of what can actually happen in a jury room. Fonda's character definitely gets away with a lot that wouldn't be allowed (how did he manage to get a switchblade knife into a courtroom?). But I mostly forgive that for the sake of dramatic license.

I also find it interesting how this movie seems really ahead of the curve on how aggressive police procedures can result in false convictions -- not necessarily out of any kind of far-reaching conspiracy, but just because the cops tend to be very biased in favor of thinking the guy they arrested is guilty and will pressure witnesses into testifying as much. Basically, to accept the theory proposed in the movie, you have to accept that witnesses like the woman and old man neighbors didn't really see the man they thought they saw, and that it's plausible that the defendant really didn't remember what movie he saw or what happened to his knife. Except, now we know that's totally possible! People make all kinds of false statements under police interrogation.

The only fault in the movie's construction I can think of is that it never really offers up a plausible alternate reason the father was killed, other than that they lived in a rough neighborhood where violence was common. Maybe they could have mentioned that he had a lot of gambling debts or something.

Yeah, my only criticism of this is the jury doesn't seem to work that way (as almostaghost confirms). Just the idea that Henry Fonda is doing, apparently, all the work of the defense attorney is kind of silly. I also think it's kind of silly that, through mostly calm, rational discussion converts the entire group. But this movie is pretty undeniably great even with the knife scene. I'd definitely include it on the list.

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I remember back when the imdb message boards were a thing. Some user tried making a case that the movie would have been improved if it ended with Henry Fonda smirking at the end as though he were in on it. Talk about completely missing the point.

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I really enjoyed this episode, and I especially loved the conversation with Marissa Beyers.  The only time I was on a jury, I certainly had this film in the back of my mind, because after watching four days of testimony without being able to discuss the case with anyone else, I had no idea what the rest of the jury felt.  I thought maybe I'd have to Henry Fonda everyone over to my way of thinking.  (As it turned out, everyone basically agreed without requiring any persuasion, and it was a civil case anyway so we didn't need to be fully unanimous, although I recall that we ended up being so regardless.)

At any rate, my only major misgiving about the film on this watch was that the racism of the racist characters felt a little too blatant, whereas I think it would have been more effective if they were called out for showing their bias in subtler ways.  But then they played that racist dude's speech in the 1997 version, and I realized how toned down the original one is by comparison.  But besides that, I'm all for putting this one on the list.

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I think criticizing this film for how unlike an actual jury room this is would be like criticizing Star Wars for having audible laser fire in the vaccuum of space. It's not really the point. 

I'd argue too that having such broadly defined characters (and indeed not having any character names) raises this film to a level of archetype, something almost like a Greek tragedy. 

I wish Paul and Amy would have weighed in a bit more on the ending. Like how the filmmakers felt it so necessary to have Henry Ford's character say his name at the end. What purpose does this ending really serve? I continually wonder about this.  

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5 hours ago, DannytheWall said:

I think criticizing this film for how unlike an actual jury room this is would be like criticizing Star Wars for having audible laser fire in the vaccuum of space. It's not really the point. 

I think it is the point, considering how influential the film is about justice.

Maybe they didn't intend it, but that's how it ended up.

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I think it is the point, considering how influential the film is about justice.

Maybe they didn't intend it, but that's how it ended up.

Yeah, this isn't clearly intended as a fantasy like Star Wars is. There's no "a long time ago in a courtroom far far away" tagline. I think complaints about the realism are fair game (though IMO overrided by lots of other virtues).

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Even though he's the hero, I don't see Fonda as "reason", he's instead acting like a defense lawyer and re-litigating the case. I don't think his "doubt" is "reasonable", he's instead just always reaching for an excuse for everything. I don't think there was any convincing him. So he thus represents George Bernard Shaw's victorious unreasonable man. I'd be interested in seeing that Japanese version, since a lone holdout could just as easily be someone insisting on guilt.

Stereotypes are often accurate: women really are more law-abiding.

Per William Stuntz' The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, women regularly got off for killing their husbands back in the gilded era, as the system was very pro-defendant and juries accepted many defenses aimed at their common-sense morality rather than the letter of the law.

The notion of an independent-thinking jury member bucking convention reminds me of your canon episode for The Fountainhead, in which I thought Ayn Rand cowardly recoiled from her anti-majoritarian instincts. Looking back on it, I see that I made the same point citing Stuntz there as well.

I assume Fritz Lang's "Fury" is where the David Milch written Hill Street Blues episode "Trial by Fury" got its title. I have to say, I didn't care for Lumet's "The Verdict". It seemed like a very cliche underdog courtroom movie, without even the distinctiveness you might come from a Mamet screenplay credit. When Todd Phillips said "Joker" was partly inspired by the work of Lumet, I have to assume he's referring to his 70s stuff like Dog Day Afternoon and Network rather than that.

I tried looking up Lumet's wikipedia bio for more on him being mistakenly named during the McCarthy era, but didn't find anything.

21 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Lawyers, judges, juries: each have their own necessary function, and this jury in this movie takes on all three roles. It's kind of bizarre and the one thing I can't fully get my head around it, or why it was necessary to write that way.

That's how it is in the Anglo-American adversarial system of justice, but in other countries judges are supposed to act as fact-finders pursuing an investigation rather than having opposing lawyers present different versions to them. I remember watching "In the Fade" and finding a German criminal trial odd for that reason.

21 hours ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

The only fault in the movie's construction I can think of is that it never really offers up a plausible alternate reason the father was killed, other than that they lived in a rough neighborhood where violence was common. Maybe they could have mentioned that he had a lot of gambling debts or something.

Which actually would fit the worldview of the bigoted juror.

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On 3/28/2020 at 12:05 AM, sycasey 2.0 said:

Yeah, this isn't clearly intended as a fantasy like Star Wars is. There's no "a long time ago in a courtroom far far away" tagline. I think complaints about the realism are fair game (though IMO overrided by lots of other virtues).

But neither are they clearly intending it to be a documentary or cinema verite.

I'm guessing that it's partly due to its roots as a theatrical play, in that the story is allowed to be more representational/metaphoric. I'm buying into the more abstract representation than you all, and probably even Amy (who wondered in the podcast if it was meant to show "these men," "men" or "just human nature," to paraphrase.)     

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On 3/28/2020 at 7:01 AM, FictionIsntReal said:
On 3/27/2020 at 9:36 AM, AlmostAGhost said:

Lawyers, judges, juries: each have their own necessary function, and this jury in this movie takes on all three roles. It's kind of bizarre and the one thing I can't fully get my head around it, or why it was necessary to write that way.

 

Maybe in some alternate universe there exists the director's cut alternate ending, when Henry Ford's character walks out of the courtroom, and the camera pulls back through the eye of the REAL jury member and we learn that all along the 12 angry men were all inside the mind of the same man, Pixar's Inside Out-style.  Whoa! 12 Angry Inceptions! 

 

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2 hours ago, DannytheWall said:

But neither are they clearly intending it to be a documentary or cinema verite.

No, but it is shooting for realism, isn't it? This is about a real world case being solved by real world people in order to focus in on real life justice and human nature.

Also, I do think it has developed a reputation of verite, even if unintended; Amy's story about Justice Sotomayor having to tell juries to quell their 12 Angry Men-inspired aspirations is proof.

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12 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

No, but it is shooting for realism, isn't it? This is about a real world case being solved by real world people in order to focus in on real life justice and human nature.

 

No, it's shooting for verisimilitude. It's about how any person can make decisions when no one can't ever know what's the truth. 

That's divorced from its reputation or its use as an instructional "aid." I think such use would speak more of its popularity/influence and the fact that it's likely guaranteed to be encountered by Americans in public education as opposed to, say, Rashomon. 

But that's fine to disagree. I often approach film theory/art in a more abstract and representational versus presentational way, so I'm likely going to always push for that perspective.   

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On 3/29/2020 at 9:52 AM, DannytheWall said:

Maybe in some alternate universe there exists the director's cut alternate ending, when Henry Ford's character walks out of the courtroom, and the camera pulls back through the eye of the REAL jury member and we learn that all along the 12 angry men were all inside the mind of the same man, Pixar's Inside Out-style.  Whoa! 12 Angry Inceptions! 

 

That sounds somewhat like the movie "Identity", which Adaptation parodied with Donald Kaufman's "The Three".

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