It’s a courtroom scene. The Judge announces to the jury “if there is reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused, a reasonable doubt, then you must bring me a verdict of not guilty. Now however if there is no reasonable doubt, then you must in good conscience find the accused guilty. However, you decide your verdict must be unanimous. In the event that you find the accused guilty, the bench will not entertain a recommendation for mercy. The death sentence is mandatory in this case. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you Gentlemen”
That’s where it begins. 12 Jurors are assigned the task of reaching a verdict in a case in which a young boy is accused of murdering his father.
Responsibility for humankind means many things. To a few, it is a choice while to others it is inevitable. Between these two perceptions lies a fine line. Which sometimes blurs and outweighs the core beliefs of humanity. The reason is possibly man drifting from his true self owing to experience and evolution.
When the 12 men enter, the discussion room, the chaotic setup paces and gives an impression of how unimportant the case is to each one of them. Besides one person, every man in the room is talking about trivial things like how they have to be somewhere once all this is over or how this is their first experience on a Jury.
The film does a marvelous job of keeping things as real as possible. The entire movie is shot in that small meeting hall where the morals of these men are put to test by various factors. It is the sheer intelligence of the makers to introduce a story that is most uncertain when it comes to the end result. Of course, there are only two outcomes. They either come out pleading guilty or not guilty. But it is not the verdict we are worried about. It is the people who are assigned the responsibility of breaking the case down but are simply unwilling to put an effort.
But as we said, there is one man! To make them realize that they are dealing with a human life after all. Davis’ character in the film is incredibly well thought of and brilliantly executed by the amazing Henry Fonda.
An intense drama created in one small room takes you through a series of realizations. At one point, the truth about the murder seems irrelevant. It is just 12 normal humans exchanging thoughts and realizing where they stand with their views and beliefs.
In the beginning, it is Henry Fonda against the 11. The thoughtful architect wants to give the accused a benefit of the doubt and talk about possibilities.
The way Fonda shows his presence of mind even with a few hefty in the room trying to yell and talk him out of his merciful mindset is explicable. As he analyses all the evidence and witnesses, one by one the jury members begin to realize that they may have missed important facts about the case. Now they have the same goal as Davis- Not to rely on biased witnesses and bring out the facts of the mysterious murder. From here the excitement builds on.
Davis is never confident he will be able to change all perspectives in that room. In fact, he is uncertain of the truth more than anyone in that room. At one point he is even left dumbfound when one of the men questions his method of assumptions and asks him what if the boy really killed his father? But he is willing to put himself in the victim’s shoes to understand his plight as a slum dweller. Things like violence are an everyday experience for a boy of his origin. And the fact that he was not able to clearly detail his alibi after looking at his father’s dead body.
A brash cobb keeps yelling on top of his voice. At one point he even loses his cool and threatens to kill Davis only to strengthen his argument even further. You will absolutely adore Davis for the dignity and calm that he manages to keep in the most volatile space. Among men who he slowly turns on his side one by one, proposing the most logical possibilities. And in the process, showing them men, that there are more things to them than just themselves.
There are no special effects, no dramatic storyline. Just a simple story played out magnificently by these 12 gentlemen. Fonda’s Davis may be the highlight of the story. But the other 11 characters have a fair share of screen time. In the duration of 96 minutes, director Sidney Lumet makes sure you understand the personality of each character.
It is rather difficult to captivate an audience without giving them something elegant to stare at. The makers, however, manage to keep interests piqued with the minimal resources they have. Zooming in on characters, close facial shots and the sly background score on occasions where the men are struck with deep realizations amplify the effect.
The discussion in that room is built to give the audience, the entire account of the murder. At no point would you feel the need to see how the murder happened. Thanks to the brilliantly scripted conversations you can actually visualize what must have happened at the crime scene.
The characters are undergoing uncomfortable experiences in the room like sweating, no fan and most importantly, the arguments. But the plot never suffocates and succumbs to the claustrophobia of a small room. The script is out an out a winner. If you want to witness tension in its most raw form, this is the film you need to watch. It is marvelous how you feel what each of these characters feel. Very rarely do you come across a script that successfully weaves awkward scenes with gawkiness permeating all the way out of the frame.
It is also a powerful message about the nature of Justice and the nature of humanity itself. How law sometimes fails to understand the truth and takes wrong decisions. We judge others based on superficial details that we know and have heard of. Almost every time forgetting to realize there could be a flipside to the reality that we see.