Twelve strangers without any legal training have been called upon to decide the fate of a disenfranchised teenager charged with murdering his physically abusive father. Their verdict must be unanimous. The penalty is death.
12 Angry Men is a landmark of legal cinema.
It is a legal drama without any lawyers. The focus is squarely upon the twelve jurors and the fascinating and mysterious process of group deliberation by laypersons for the most serious of criminal allegations.
The entire film, apart from the opening and closing scenes, takes place in the jury room. Initially you feel like a fly on the wall, watching the events from a distance. As the conflict intensifies and the camera pulls closer to the individual actors, you begin to feel like you are actually sitting at the table and participating in the deliberation process.
It has a gritty, realistic style. The actors, apart from Henry Fonda, look like regular people. The biases and prejudices of each character are on full display as they struggle with the weight of responsibility that comes with being asked to stand in judgment of another individual. For each of the jurors it is emotionally demanding work, as it is for all participants in the criminal justice process.
The film also nicely dramatizes the application of the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and how the system only works effectively when each player takes his role seriously.
A must see.
In Canada, the constitutional right to a trial by jury with respect to more serious criminal allegations is found in section 11 (f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states:
11. Any person charged with an offence has the right ...
(f) except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment…