This film reminded me of Reservoir Dogs and not because of any violence. The deceptively simple plot takes place in limited settings with a limited amount of nameless characters, all men in suits. These restrictions only served to increase the film’s intensity, along with superb acting and gripping dialogue.
A boy is being tried for the murder of his father. The twelve, all male members of the jury retire to a stifled room to decide the verdict. Eleven are convinced he’s guilty. One isn’t.
The characters arguably represent different figures of society. The dissenter, played by Henry Fonda, is the ‘do-gooder’; willing to stand against the majority and stick to his opinions to the end. He is not convinced that the boy is innocent. He is just unsure on sending him to his death on what he perceives as doubtful evidence and he is willing to sit out and point out the evidence’s defects. His main opponents are ignorant, crack jokes, shout at, insult and bully everyone if they show disagreement with the guilty verdict, through personal reasons such as prejudice against the boy’s background or simply because they have other places they’d rather be. The other characters either sway with the majority or are open to arguments.
This film serves as a powerful, relevant warning against holding blind confidence in the death penalty or treating the subject lightly and attacked outdated social ideals that demanded respect but encouraged hypocrisy and prejudice, in a manner that moves and angers you.