12 Angry Men (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet Question I

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12 Angry Men (1957) directed bySidney Lumet

Question I

The theme of this movie is social justice and responsibility. Thestatement made by the subject or theme is that justice is a rarity insociety today with bigotry, prejudice and arrogance being among themany issues standing in the way.

Two scenes and characters that stand out in addressing the theme ofthe film are juror 10 and juror 7. In one scene, juror 10 goes on arant criticizing minorities, insults and shows how deeply prejudicedand biased he is towards them. The others walk away from the tableleaving him in his tirade. Eventually juror 4 puts him in his placeand tells him to sit down and not speak again.

A second scene which stands out is one in which juror 7 suddenlyswitches his vote to not guilty after most of the other jurors havedone this already. He does this with no concrete argument or basis,arguing that he is sick of talking, has had enough of thedeliberations and that the jury come up with a unanimous decision sothat he can attend a ball game. This shows how much he disregardssome members of society and has no qualms in sacrificing them inorder to fulfil his selfish interests. The American justice system isput to test in the entire film as regards justice and equality andthis two scenes expose its weaknesses in regard to both.

Question 2

a) There is no narrative in the film. It is shot in real time withno flashbacks used. The defendant’s alibi is discussed with aswitch blade knife being produced as the possible murder weapon. Thedefendant’s background is briefly discussed, his age and height ascompared to that of his father, the stab wound and at what angle thestabbing was possibly done. There is also the case of the singlewitness whose eyesight and level is put to doubt. The film isnonlinear with no chronology of events aimed at putting out an ‘openand shut’ case.

The plot is structured such that 12 jurors all middle aged are puttogether in single room and are taxed with coming up with a unanimous’guilty or non-guilty’ verdict. They then argue and debate withjuror 8 slowly but surely convincing the others that the defendant isactually not guilty after 11 thought he was. This is based on facts,figures and events. Eventually after much deliberation, haggling,loss of temper and physical confrontations, this is achieved

b) Acting-The acting is broad based and is mannered. Some of thejurors are calm while others border on the eccentric. Some actorsdisplay real emotion while others are not in sync with theatmosphere. An example is juror 5 who does not seem to drop a sweatdespite this being one of the hottest days in summer.

Juror 3 borders on the emotional based on the fact that he had afalling out with his son and has not seen him in quite a while. He isprone to outbursts and is quite angry even threatening his fellowjurors. Juror 8 on the other hand is firm, calm and collected, notemotional but thorough to detail.

As the film evolves, the characters change their stance based onfacts mostly brought out by juror 8.This shows dynamism in that inthe beginning 11 jurors had voted to send the juvenile to theelectric chair. After careful examination of facts for example theculprit’s height as compared to that of his father, the loneeyewitness sight problem, noise made by the train and the manner inwhich the stab wound was afflicted, there is change in attitude. Thejury members’ move slowly to common ground. Eventually as the factscome and the members reason out, they come up with positionsdifferent from what they had started out.

c) Cinematography the cinematography of the film is dull, withoutcolor and not vibrant. However the angles used to shoot the film arediverse with some shots done to lighten up the otherwise dull scenes.There is also use of close up scenes which show the expressions ofthe jurors at different intervals. This play a part in expressing theinner thoughts of some if not all of the jurors. In the beginning,the cameras are put at eye level with the angles progressivelyshifting from that to close up shots of all the characters in thescene.

The scenes and shots which I found interesting is when juror 5doesn’t seem to sweat or want to remove his jacket despite thisbeing predicted to be the hottest day in summer. Another interestingscene is when juror 7 suddenly changes his vote to not guilty basedon the point that he has tickets to go and watch a baseball game.Juror 7 was one of the chief proponents of the guilty vote andswitches with no basis or constructive argument. This shows totaldisregard for the evidence presented and facts with no regard for thewellbeing of the defendant.

A third scene which caught my eye is when all the jurors basicallyleave juror 3 to rant and rave without necessary giving him an ear.He has not had any emotional or physical connection with his son forclose to two years hence his anger and outbursts are based on thisfact. He is bitter with the defendant based on the argument that‘they are all ungrateful ‘and is quick to dismiss any doubt(reasonable) and send him to the chair.

d)Editing The pace and tempo of the film is such that it startsslowly, in an almost boring fashion but picks up speed as the jurorscontinue to deliberate.

Use of camera tricks to increase the tension Camera tricks are usedto increase the tension in the room as the jurors deliberate. Thecamera lenses display the raw emotions of each of the jurors as theypreempt their thoughts and feelings. There is also use of singletakes the movie is shot such that each character takes a single takewhile the film is being shot in order for it to reach the desiredgoal. This in turn creates the desired effect in the movie beingcontinuity.

In the film it seems like the edits have been done in the lasttwenty minutes.

Positioning the positioning of the characters and cameras is suchthat the characters are able to move around the room and address eachother from different positions in the room.

e) Synchronisation The voices of the jurors are such that they arein sync with the emotions that they give off as each gives out thereopinion. There words and body language are set in tandem.

f) Art Direction and Design the film is set on a hot summer dayprobably the hottest as stated by the weatherman. The 12 jurors arecrammed in a single room and are tasked with coming up with averdict. The room itself contains a few windows, 12 chairs for eachjuror and doors. There is no time frame given for the film takingplace with each act taking place at the same time (real time).

Question 3

There is also no visible use of effects in the film neither is thereany stand out costume worn by the characters there is the use ofordinary day to day characters with each bringing out differentperspectives on the case which was previously assumed in thebeginning to be open and shut. The film itself gives out a hiddenmeaning but has a few props for example Juror 7 with his baseballtickets is ready to give up the freedom of a man in order to attendthe game. Juror 8 on the other hand is able to produce a knifesimilar to that used as evidence in the trial.

The director Sidney Lumet incorporates theatrical properties. Thecamera lenses move from one character to the next. This points outthe characters in question as they address each other with the cameralooking directly into the direction in which the other characterbeing addressed should be. The film seems like a play out of thetheatre with the cast moving around the scene at different intervals.

The director also incorporates energy and realism into the film withthe rain outside affecting the look inside the room. The scene in theroom is still hot with the actors sweating profusely.

There are also breaks in conversation amongst the jurors allowingspontaneous opinions which seem like the jurors are actuallyexpressing themselves without necessarily sticking to a given script.

There is also logical reasoning in the film with the directorallowing all actors to put their points across. This he does withoutallowing the truth to come out in the open straight out but ratherallows all the cast to haggle their case and come out with aunanimous decision based on facts and evidence.

Sidney Lumet’s style of directing is the montage vs. the longtake. In this style the director lets the conversation flow living itto the characters discretion to come up with their own script ofwords in relation to the original. The jurors basically debate for 90of the 95 minutes of the film.

Question 4

The film brings out society’s attitude to different circumstances.Prejudice, hate and anger are shown to be quite prevalent in people’sday to day thinking and reasoning.

I personally like the film since it brings out the inept with whichsociety lives. The adage of guilty until proven innocent shows therot with which justice systems worldwide carry out their mandates.This proves to be an eye opener. It also makes me aware that thereare few people willing to take a chance on humanity. Juror 8 clearlybrings this out despite all odds stacked against him.


Lumet, S. (1957). 12 Angry Men. Henry Fonda and Reginald Rose.