Like everyone else, growing up I had it beaten into my head that certain movies were the cream of the crop of cinema and above criticism. One of those films is Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957). The movie has such a reputation as an undisputed masterpiece that it has one of the highest ratings at the IMDB.
I would’ve loved this movie forever had something not happened. I got called for jury duty not once, but three times. Although I never got to serve on an actual trial, all three times I and other potential jurors were extensively briefed on the finer points of deliberation. What we were taught couldn’t have been far more removed than what was shown in 12 Angry Men. In fact, as it turned out, the hero of the movie (Juror 8) had done the very things you weren’t supposed to do as a juror.
Initially, I forgave 12 Angry Men’s transgressions as just artistic license. I figured that since screenwriter Reginald Rose wasn’t a lawyer or someone well-versed in law, there were bound to be a few errors here and there. And besides, in a drama, you sometimes have to fudge things a little bit to hold the audience’s interest.
However, the third time I was called to jury duty and was briefed yet again, I began to realize the uncomfortable truth–that the flaws in 12 Angry Men weren’t really innocent transgressions; they were very purposeful and cynical by someone who had not only served on a trial but had figured out how to subvert the deliberation process.
How? True to the spirit of this blog, I’m going to deconstruct the movie piece by piece to show why, although 12 Angry Men is superbly acted, the writing itself is a very cynical and manipulative work that ironically does the opposite of what it’s pretending to do.