Henry Fonda, Lee Cobb, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden
Juror #3: Well why should he lie? What’s he got to gain?
Juror #9: Attention maybe…
Juror #3: You keep comin’ in with these bright sayings! Why don’t you send ’em in to a paper!? They pay three dollars a piece!
Eleven out of twelve jurors are ready to return a guilty verdict in a murder case without really giving it a second thought, but Juror #8 (Fonda) thinks they need to discuss it further. This angers some of the other men for various reasons. Some think the young defendant is clearly guilty, while others just want to get out of there and get home – or to a baseball game. As they discuss the facts, and their own reasons for voting guilty, opinions begin to sway.
It’s not easy to create excitement and energy in a movie that takes place almost entirely inside one room, but director Sidney Lumet managed to do it in this case, in what was evidently his first motion picture after directing on television for a few years. That background may have benefited him because the limited sets and fast paced dialogue are somewhat reminiscent of a television show. He uses the relatively small juror room set to its fullest with varying angles and sweeping camera movements. It never felt too closed in, except for when he wanted it to feel that way as the meeting went on longer and longer.
We see early on that everyone, including the judge, is bored with this case. All signs point to guilty, especially in the eyes of most of the jury. As they enter the jury room, they’re joking around and talking about everything but the case at hand. Only Juror #8 seems to actually be focused on the facts of the trial. This early scene is entertaining while it also sets up the personalities and attitudes of the various jurors.
Another great early scene is when the initial vote is taken. When asked who votes guilty, all but 3 or 4 raise their hands. The ones that don’t immediately raise their hands look around, see they’re in the minority, and all but one gradually raise theirs as well. It’s a perfect example of mob mentality and fear of standing up against a majority, even when a man’s life is at stake.
Some of the characters and their actions are slightly over the top with their hate and prejudice, but it’s all to make a point about how clouded a person’s judgment can be when they let that stuff get in the way of the facts. As Fonda pleads with them to discuss the case further, and some opinions start to change, it all feels very authentic. Nobody just inexplicably changes sides for the sake of advancing the plot. We understand the characters and can see why they may or may not change their vote.
This movie could have gotten bogged down in a lot of legal talk, but thankfully it’s more about the characters, what they believe, and why they believe it. Though, there is still a fair amount of discussion about the case and what happened. I found that stuff interesting to listen to, but I’m not sure every viewer would.
So, another American classic out of the way, and this one was as good as advertised. Funny and insightful dialogue, good characters and performances, and a good message about social responsibility and standing up for what you believe in. Well done, movie.
Apparently jury duty can be really exciting!
10 – .7 for a few over the top characters – .5 for some by the numbers character development = 8.8