What we can learn from '12 angry men' - part 2

This is a follow up to part 1, where I looked into the first act of the film 12 Angry Men.

Getting stuck during act 2 is such a widespread problem among writers that studying how this film progresses through it can be very valuable.

As we can see in the timeline created by importing the film into MediaTag and marking the different moments, we get the following scenes:

1 - pause
2 - putting back the slackers on track
3 - I kill you
4 - Vote 3
5 - Discrediting the old man's testament
6 - Vote 4
7 - Remembering the film the kid saw
8 - The knife and the wound it created
9 - Vote 5

Let's look into each in more details:

1 - First pause

This scene lasts 4 minutes.

This follows the last scene of the first act, which was the vote where a first character switched to non guilty.

Having a pause might seem like a boring move at first, but it achieves two goals:
- it lets the audience process what has been told before regarding the case
- we also get to know the characters more personally.

And note that this is the only time we exit the main room!

"Let's assume you were the one going to the chair" is a strong phrase showing the stakes.
But Juror 7 replies with a strong one "Let's assume he really did kill his father". He does not seem to realize it, but this echoes to the protagonist, who now realizes he could make  horrible mistake by letting a killer free. 

2 - Putting back the slackers on track

This scene lasts 6 minutes.

This is the first time the protagonist gets upset at the 5 other jurors who don't listen to arguments but just play around. He has been a pacifist until now, and he always responded calmly to the debate, which has been a very healthy way of confronting opposition. But facing indifference forces him to raise his voice and put the dilettantes back on track. They get surprised and offended, raising the tension.

Juror 9 starts to explain his opinion on why the witness man could have pushed his version. Probably because he wants attention. The possibility of his version being false is strong and should not be ignored.

The stakes are also raised now, as the antagonists are pushing stronger, but the protagonist is not alone anymore.

3 - I kill you

This scene lasts 6 minutes.

As they discuss the important of the accused saying "I kill you", we start here a thread. Just like the 2 witnesses, the lady and the old man. They all get mentioned and started early in the film, debated again later and only concluded later on. They get treated in parallel, rather than one after the other. The goal here is to keep questions in the mind of the audience, resolving them as late as possible, in order to maintain the conflict high.

This is where we go to 9 guilty against 3 non-guilty. We are now at the middle of the film. This could be considered in screenwriting term as the mid point, the exact middle of act 2. There is still a long road to travel and opposition is still very strong (maybe even getting stronger as emotions raise), but the fight is fully established.

4 - Vote 3

This scene lasts 2 minutes.

We are now 8 guilty against 4 non-guilty.

This is still a slow progression, where each battle is be won one at a time. 

5 - Discrediting the old man's testament

This scene lasts 9 minutes.

The jurors argue on whether the old man had time or not to go to his door and see the kid. In order to solve that, they will bring the map of his flat and reproduce how he could have walked.

This allows to add movement. This helps not being overly static.

After having reproduced in the room itself the walking of the old man and proven his point that the witness had estimated the duration of his walk very poorly, juror 3 gets mad. This drives him to project his anger against juror 8 even more and pronounce the phrase he expected "I'll kill you". This proves juror 8's point as he replies "You don't really mean it, do you?" and close the thread regarding this phrase pronounced by the accused.

6 - Vote 4

This scene lasts 7 minutes.

We are now at 6 against 6, 1 hour in.

This gets even more reaction from the juror who just want to get this done, as they see they are losing. This taking time is their way of vocalizing it, but the subtext really is about ego.

This is followed by a small pause. The rain bring juror 1 and 8 talking together about the weather. This is a nice moment, as even though they disagree on the judgment, they still talk and develop a friendship, keeping a healthy respect for each other.

We even briefly notice juror 3 and 4, the strongest antagonists, disagree against each other regarding juror 8 himself. 3 is still angry against him, while 4 starts to have some respect.

The whole scene takes about 8 minutes. A long pause, but not uninteresting as we see more character development.

7 - The film the kid saw

This scene lasts 4 minutes.

This leads to a conversation mostly between our protagonist and juror 4, the logical and implacable one.

We get to see a first crack in his logical, placing a doubt in him. But he still has testaments to hang on to.

8 - The knife and the wound it created

This scene lasts 5 minutes.

This is the scene that raises takes in between the jurors. This is not just the kid who is in danger, but the protagonist as well, as we will briefly afraid of juror 3 stabbing him.

9 - Vote 5

This scene lasts 4 minutes.

The numbers have now tipped. We are 3 guilty against 9 non-guilty.

Still, the remaining ones are the strongest, each with very different personalities. We now that the last act will be even more tense that what we saw so far.

Takeaways for Act Two

Threads are not tackled in sequence, one after the other, but in parallel. This is important to constantly raise the tension instead of diminishing it.

Stakes are constantly raised. We start by only worrying about the accused, but get to also worry about the protagonist, who puts himself on the line. He goes from fearing ridicule at the beginning, to being severely hurt by those who disagree the most.

There are great variations in staging and compositions
. There are close ups on individuals and on groups. Characters are moving almost constantly. And many important scenes are set in a long shot, moving from close to wide, with a lot characters movement.

See you in a few days for Part 3, which will go over the second act. Be sure to subscribe to the weekly newsletter below to be notified when this is published.