12 Angry Men - Review (Greatest Movies of All Time #87)


Over the weekend, Sarah and I watched 12 Angry Men, #87 on the American Film Institute's list of Greatest Movies of All Time.  It did not disappoint.
12 Angry Men tells the story of a jury in a murder trial.  Except for the a total of 3 minutes (at beginning and end), the entire movie takes place in the jury's deliberation room (and the attached bathroom).
At the opening of the movie, the judge - with great boredom in his voice - gives the jury their instructions.  A. They must be unanimous.  B. If they render a guilty verdict, by state law, the defendant will be given the death penalty.
Within the first few minutes, the group takes an opening vote.  On the surface, it is an open-and-shut case, so the results are 11 for guilty and 1 for not guilty.  Only one person, for reasons he can't exactly name himself, believes that they should carefully weigh all the evidence before giving a guilty verdict.  His resistance to a quick decision leads the jury on an odyssey of discovery - both in terms of the evidence and in terms of their own group dynamics.
The rest of the movie is a case study in group process, consensus building, team dynamics, group synergy, and individual psychology.  The group wrestles with the meaning of the American judicial system, how to weigh conflicting or insufficient evidence, prejudice, inner psychological pains, and how to overcome divided opinions.
If I were teaching a class on church leadership, I would have my students watch this movie and write a paper about what it teaches us about church board meetings.  Some of the most beautiful lessons I saw are:
(a) Minority voices are extremely important, so we need to give dissenters the opportunity to speak and to be heard.  One of the most important supporting characters makes the valuable contribution of demanding that the minority voice be heard.
(b) Our collective intellect can be either disastrous (as when group think leads us toward a hasty and misguided decision) or helpful (as when we each bring our insights and experience to bear on the discussion and come up with a more helpful solution than any of us could have imagined on our own).
(c) Sometimes the most passionate defenders of a position hold that passion for reasons independent of the facts (prejudice or personal pain).

I highly recommend this movie.  It's a bit slow and heady, but it ekes into the full 5 Js.  The Josh rating: JJJJJ.


(Thanks for the loaner Michael.)