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The Film “Twelve Angry Men” Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Oct 21st, 2020


The film 12 Angry Men is without a doubt one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the 20th century and a classic example of American cinematography. The primary topic of the film—the influence of racial prejudice on decision-making in the courtroom—remains highly relevant even though more than fifty years have passed since its release. It should also be noted that numerous critics have provided their perceptions of 12 Angry Man, and thus, it is possible to state that much has been said or written about the subject. This review aims to discuss the principal artistic aspects of the movie that have a considerable impact on any profound interpretation of the film.

Overview of the Plot

This brief description of the plot of the movie is intended to provide the proper context for discussion. To begin the discussion, it is important to set the scene for the film: 12 Angry Men is a chamber drama that is explored to the maximum of its potential. Excluding the briefly depicted setup and epilogue, the entire movie takes place in one room. Twelve jurors are arguing over imposing the death sentence on a boy accused of murdering his father (Guo et al. 318). At first, the decision seems plain and obvious to everyone: the boy is guilty.

However, one man among the jurors doubts the simplicity of this decision: Juror #8, played by Henry Fonda. At the beginning of the film, he is the only one who votes in favor of the accused boy’s innocence. A dispute begins over this decision, and as the discussion continues, the situation creates a high level of tension. Finally, after coming through discussions, debates, accusations, uncertainty, and stress, the jurors unanimously vote in support of the boy’s innocence. However, the movie leaves its audience with an open-ended feeling since it is not made explicit whether the boy has done the crime. With this context set, the following sections will dwell upon more particular themes and motives presented in the film.

Analysis of the Principal Aspects of the Movie

One of the principal aspects, significantly contributing to a better understanding of 12 Angry Men, is the fact that the source for the script was a television play written by Reginald Rose (Raw 2). Thus, considering this context, it is not surprising that the film has such a claustrophobic narrative—the characters were initially intended to act within the constraints of the limited space of the stage.

However, it is also evident that the director of 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet (it is also worth mentioning that this film marked his debut in cinematography), puts the characters of his movie into one little room, using the restricted space to create an extremely high level of tension (12 Angry Men). The jurors are trapped in a small and stifling room on a hot and sultry day, and they have nothing to do but to communicate, being forced to work through their irritation, anger, prejudice (not only toward the defendant, but also toward each other), and personal interests (12 Angry Men). Thus, the second cornerstone of the movie’s immense pathos and artistic power is masterly written and acted dialogue.

The dialogues are the strongest aspect of the film. The movie 12 Angry Men lacks spectacular action since the jurors only sit and incidentally walk around the small room; no breathtaking, lush visual effects are present in the movie. The characters exchange phrases, observations, and rants, yet they create an exciting movie experience. It is worth mentioning that the length of the film is only 95 minutes, a relatively short amount of time for a courtroom drama. However, the cast is capable of revealing a diverse set of characters’ personalities, their beliefs and prejudices, and emotional and ethical standards as well.

Another important aspect is plot development. It is possible to observe that the story is not preoccupied with the investigation of the crime. The audience, as well as the jurors themselves, has relatively limited information about the case: It is known that the evidence is second-hand, the boy is barely depicted in the movie, and the overall information about the case is considerably brief and fragmented. This limitation is imposed intentionally to let the audience focus on the primary idea proposed by the creators of the movie: The jurors have the weighty responsibility of deciding to send a young man to die, and this decision does not come easily.

Considering the visual techniques used, it is necessary to mention that the camera perspective changes throughout the development of the story. During the first half of the movie, the camera shoots from a point above the level of the human eye. Toward the end of the film, the camera’s perspective lowers, and finally, it is placed below the eye line. This pattern follows the development of the narration since the audience is presented with a detached perception of the movie’s characters at first, and as the plot unwinds, the viewer’s perspective is drawn into a more sympathetic image of the jurors.

Challenges to Communication

Further, it is essential to dwelling more profoundly upon the interpersonal, intrapersonal, and societal challenges to communication, which are presented in the movie. First of all, the historical context should be considered. 12 Angry Men was released in 1957, in the period when the discussion of racism’s adverse impact on American society began to spread. However, the prejudice toward African Americans and Hispanics was still widely accepted by numerous people.

Also, the conditions of the courtroom should be concerned as the physical factor that challenged the characters’ communication. Lumet puts the jurors in a very small, stiff, and heated room, which has an almost claustrophobic effect on some of them. These two factors – racial prejudice and limited space – serve as catalysts for the development of social drama. Each of the jurors brings his own cultural and ethical “baggage,” and under the pressure of the situation, the men’s worldviews begin to collide.

The Juror #3 considers the case to be very simple to solve, and the rest of the party lightly agrees, except the juror #8. The Juror #10, who possesses the deepest racial bias, rants about the deceiving nature of “these people,” while the Juror #4 tries to appeal to pure logic in his reasoning (12 Angry Men). Also, it is essential to mention that, apart from the racial prejudice toward the defendant, the racist observations are also aimed at juror #11. Overall, it should be observed that the characters of the movie are portrayed not as purely evil or good. Instead, the emphasis is made on the complex nature of interpersonal communication in the context of personal issues and beliefs.

Possible Implications of Technical Progress on the Judicial System

Additionally, it would be interesting to overview the problem under discussion from the perspective of technological progress. The development of various communication tools (most importantly, online services, such as chat rooms, discussion forums, and video conferences) can have considerable implications for the process of judicial decision-making. Thus, the question could be imposed: does the advancement of the technologies improve the quality of the juror’s work?

It could be hardly doubted that mobile technologies have an immense influence on nearly every aspect of modern life, and the jury is not an exception. Overall, the advancement of communication tools brings the same advantages in the courtroom as everywhere else: it is a significantly faster and more convenient way to receive and transmit the information. However, as McDonald et al. state, the profound inclusion of mobile technologies in the judicial process must be supported by the research of possible adverse implications (179).

It could be observed that, excluding some minor aspects, the jury’s decision-making process with the assistance of digital devices does not differ dramatically from the conventional manner (McDonald et al. 189). It should be mentioned that the authors have primarily studied the situation, in which the jurors are present in the jury room, and it is suggested that in some circumstances, having an individual digital device could be the disjunctive factor (McDonald et al. 182). In the situations where the juror participates in the discussion through the video conference, it is more likely that the judicial process would be more adversely affected. It is argued that the quality of decision-making in the jury room considerably depends on face-to-face communication.


In conclusion, it is possible to restate the immense significance of 12 Angry Men, which has not diminished over time. The subject of racial prejudice and its influence on the judicial system appears highly relevant in contemporary society. In general, it should be noted that the film’s profound artistic impact is achieved through the masterly depiction of ethical problems that a wide range of audiences can find relatable.

Works Cited

Guo, Fangjian, et al. “The Bayesian Echo Chamber: Modeling Social Influence via Linguistic Accommodation.” Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (AISTATS), San Diego, CA, 2015, pp. 315-323.

McDonald, Laura W., et al. “Digital Evidence in the Jury Room: The Impact of Mobile Technology on the Jury.” Current Issues in Criminal Justice, vol. 27, no. 2, 2015, pp. 179-194.

Raw, Laurence. “Twelve Angry Men on Television and Film.” Open Library of Humanities, vol. 3, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-17.

12 Angry Men. Directed by Sidney Lumet, performance by Henry Fonda, Orion-Nova Productions, 1957.

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