“12 Angry Jurors” (12 Angry Men) is a 1957 American drama film adapted from a teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. The play tells the story of a jury made up of 12 individuals as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. In the United States (both then and now), a verdict in most criminal trials by jury must be unanimous. The play & film is notable for its almost exclusive use of one set, the entire production takes place in the jury’s deliberation room.
12 Angry Jurors explores many techniques of consensus-building, and the difficulties encountered in the process, among a group of people whose range of personalities adds intensity and conflict. No names are used in the play: the defendant is referred to as “the boy” and the witnesses as the “old man” and “the lady across the street”.
The story begins in a courtroom where an 18-year-old boy (presented as a member of an unspecified minority group) from a New York city slum is on trial for allegedly stabbing his father to death. Final closing arguments are presented, and the judge then instructs the jury to decide whether the boy is guilty of murder. The judge further informs them that a guilty verdict will be accompanied by a mandatory death sentence.
The twelve-person jury retires to a private room, where they spend a short while getting acquainted before they begin deliberating. It is immediately apparent that the jurors have already decided that the boy is guilty, and that they plan to return their verdict quickly, without taking time for discussion – with the sole exception of Juror Number 8. She is the only “not guilty” vote in a preliminary tally. She explains that there is too much at stake for her to go along with the verdict without at least talking about it first. Her vote annoys the other jurors, especially Juror 7, who has tickets to the evening’s theatre production, and Juror 10, who believes that everyone from slum backgrounds is evil. The rest of the play’s focus is the jury’s difficulty in reaching a unanimous verdict.