This made-for-television film, based on the play by Reginald Rose, concerns a jury’s deliberations in the murder trial of a teenage boy accused of killing his father. The film begins as the judge (Mary McDonnell) explains the jury’s duties, stressing that they must return a unanimous vote and must vote guilty only if there is no reasonable doubt, adding that the boy could face the death penalty.
The twelve men retire to the sweltering jury room and chat briefly amongst themselves before the foreman (Courtney B. Vance) calls them to order and requests a vote, during which eleven of them vote guilty and one, Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon), votes not guilty.
They are surprised at his actions, saying it is an open and shut case, but he requests a discussion, saying that the boy has had a hard, impoverished life and deserves their consideration.
They then go around the table and explain their points of view, highlighting the damning evidence against the boy, including testimony from an elderly upstairs neighbor who claims to have heard the murder and seen the boy fleeing the scene, and testimony from a woman across the street who actually saw the stabbing.
They note that the boy and his father had argued violently earlier that night and that they boy had a criminal record, and Juror #3 (George C. Scott) talks about his own rotten kid, saying that children today are disrespectful.
Juror #10 (Mykelti Williamson) blames the slums in which the boy grew up, which offends Juror #5 (Dorian Harewood), but #8 explains that he found the little things about the case questionable and now doubts the details.
They first discuss the knife, which the boy purchased earlier on the night of the murder and claimed to have lost, and the jurors express doubt that someone else could have found it and killed the father with it, particularly as it is allegedly unique.
#8 then produces an identical knife, however, disproving this theory, and questions why he would have showed it to his friends if he intended to commit murder. They vote again, and #9 (Hume Cronyn) is revealed to have changed his vote to not guilty, angering the others, particularly #10.
They take a break and separate into private conversations, with #6 (James Gandolfini) and #7 (Tony Danza) both confronting #8 about his reasons for holding up the vote. #6 points out that no one else had motive to kill the father, but #8 argues that he was hardly a model citizen and could easily have angered someone else.
He then questions the validity of the old man upstairs overhearing the fight and the murder, as a noisy elevated train was passing the building at that moment, and #9 offers a unique perspective on the timid, sickly witness, saying that he did not intend to lie, but offered an exaggerated point of view to validate himself. #8 adds that though the boy was heard saying I’m going to kill you, such a phrase cannot always be taken literally, and #5 is convinced and changes his vote.
#11 (Edward James Olmos) questions why the boy would have returned to the scene of the crime to retrieve his knife if he was guilty, as he logically should have wanted to evade the police, and he then changes his vote as well.
The specifics of the old man’s testimony are further questioned when #8 points out the unlikelihood of the infirm gentleman being able to leave his bed and make it to the door quickly enough to see the boy fleeing down the stairs, and he stages an elaborate recreation to point out the fallacy.
#3 grows enraged at his sanctimonious talk, and #8 accuses him of being a sadist who merely wants the boy to die, and #3 attacks, shouting that he will kill him, and #8 calmly points out his use of hyperbole. When they vote again, the tally is 6-6, and after a break, #10 suggests that they give up and declare themselves a hung jury, but #3 disagrees and the arguments continue.
#4 (Armin Mueller-Stahl) then brings up the fact that when questioned by the police, the boy could not remember details about the movies he was allegedly seeing during the time of the murder, but #8 attributes this to stress and then challenges #4 to recall the title and cast of a film (Secrets and Lies) he himself recently saw, which he realizes he cannot do.
They next discuss the psychiatrists who testified that the boy had lifelong violent tendencies, but #11 argues that while everyone has the potential to murder, not everyone carries out such actions. #2 (Ossie Davis) questions the angle of the fatal wound, pointing out that the boy was considerably shorter than his father, and #3 acts out the stabbing with #8. However, #4 realizes that the boy, familiar with knives, would have held the blade differently, and the scenario does not play out.
Having had enough and wanting to get to his baseball game, #7 changes his vote, and #11 lectures him for his cavalier attitude. Another vote produces a 9-3 result, with #3, #4 and #10 holding out, and #10 descends into a racist rant against Latinos, claiming that they are all dangerous criminals who should be eradicated. One by one, the men turn against him, and #4 coldly orders him to be silent, and he sits, defeated.
#4 brings up the eyewitness testimony from the woman across the street who actually saw the stabbing, and #12 (William Petersen) changes his vote back to guilty, but #9 keenly observes the indentations on #4’s nose from his eyeglasses and realizes that the woman in court had the same marks, meaning that she too wore glasses.
They realize that she would not have been wearing them in bed, when she claimed to have seen the murder, and her evidence is now doubtful as well. #4 is convinced, and #3 is left alone as the sole dissenter. He rages about the twisted and turned evidence and grows emotional as he talks about the pain that can grow between a father and son, revealing that he identifies with the murdered man, but #8 gently reminds him that the defendant is not his boy, and #3 tearfully changes his vote to not guilty.
The decision made, the men quietly file out of the room, and #8 and #9 introduce themselves as Davis and McArdle before departing.
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