If Letterboxd average user rating is any indication, this is one of the greatest films of all time. Is it?
I would say no. Comically enough, one could use quotes from this film to describe the film.
– “It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this.”
– “. . .it’s the way I was brought up.”
– “You don’t really mean you’ll kill me, do you?”
– “You’re a pretty smart fella, aren’t you?”
I have a theory—one I’m sure I’ve made with countless other statements on wildly varying topics, though likely with those more substantially philosophical. There’s a bias when it comes to the impact of this film, to the message it wishes to send. A pure, logical approach to the “bleeding hearts” of all of humanity. The essence of empathy and the importance of a human life hanging in the balance of the “everyman,” the typical citizen. That is 12 Angry Men’s goal. Nothing more complex than its straightforward synopsis. Should one go against this message, they’re branded a tyrant, a sadist—and I’m sure this has occurred. One of the greatest films ever? Let’s be reasonable here.
I say this to quell any suspicion that I’m simply hopping on the boat and drowning those who don’t agree—as I do. This film is phenomenal in the message it puts across, and the circumstances that come to life with a system in American culture that is not always perfect, especially circa the late 1950’s. It’s a timeless film that one can be shown again and again and can still be insightful to this day. But one thing it does come across as, I feel, is that it’s fairly preachy. To start with one character who cries “Not guilty,” then continue until, one-by-one, every juror decides the same verdict feels too keenly parallel to the educational videos one is shown on not taking drugs in school. Perhaps it wouldn’t feel as blatant if the original outlier wasn’t a perfect human being, which by all extents in this situation he is. While I won’t argue that stubbornness in the face of disputable truth shouldn’t be encouraged, its execution causes concerning layers of peer-pressure that those in the “wrong” originally used against those within the “right.”
Though the film is delectably multi-layered. The people have all sorts of prejudices and notions of reality brought upon by their personal experiences and lifestyles. Many things are brought into question with every character (except jurors 8 and 9, who are essentially God’s children), resulting in a riveting display of one of the most realistic interpretations of the “everyman” I’ve seen in some time. My major gripes with it, should they mean anything in the greater context, is that the framing could be problematic and the two aforementioned “God’s children” characters aren’t relatable on a reasonable scale; only as catalysts for what we “feel” (key word) is right in that situation.
It’s a small box, but it holds many wonders. It’s an easily recommendable film that I somewhat wish I was shown at some point during my high school days. It feels right in that type of environment, when people are still learning about the world and themselves, to showcase a film that emphasizes the importance of human empathy in a realistic setting—though that may go against one of the arguments I made above. Remember kids: be reasonable, be logical, but most importantly, be human.
Final Score: 8/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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