What we can learn from '12 angry men' - part 3/3

This is a follow up to part 1 and part 2, where I looked into the act I and II of the film 12 Angry Men.

As you can see in the timeline created using Mediatag video tagging tools, the last act of this film is only made of 3 scenes. One of each remaining juror still voting guilty.

The order they will be defeated is as follow:
1. juror 10, the racist
2. juror 4, the logical and heartless
3. juror 3, the angry and emotional
4. and we finish by characters leaving the tribunal

1. juror 10, the racist

This scene last 4 minutes.

Right after the vote, juror 10 stands up and shouts his anger. It's a facet of his character that we've already seen in small doses during the previous scenes, so this comes naturally.

As a response to his rant, all characters stands up and face the wall. The one starting the movement is not the protagonist, but juror 5, the one with a tough upbringing, the link to the guilty.

Once they all stood up, juror 5 realizes his shame and isolates himself.

This all happens in a single long take. A simple backward tracking shot, whose emotional weight grows as we see all characters turn their back. A beautiful shot.

This was a win based on shame.

2. juror 4, the logical and heartless

This scene last 8 minutes.

This scene will be driven by juror 9, who will interrupt juror 4 in his speech. He will raise a point regarding the lady having witnessed the murder. This is something that nobody had realized, but she has marks on her nose, meaning that she is wearing glasses, even though she never brought them when testifying.

And juror 4, will have a reaction in line with his logical and implacable character: he will accept this point as important enough to discredit the witness. He changes his mind, without having his ego create any resistance.

This was a win based on logic.

3. juror 3, the angry and emotional

This scene last 3 minutes.

"You are alone."

This simple line from the main protagonist to his nemesis is a fine blow. A simple way to show him he has already won, as he is does not need to try as hard as he has before. This will be increased by the intense stare of the other jurors.

Juror 3 will then start an angry rant about his right and try to assert his opinion.

Until his throws his wallet and sees the photo of his son, who he had referred to a couple times previously.

Father and son relationship is a subject that was touched several times during this story. Mostly when referring to the accused difficult childhood.

It is unspoken, but as juror 3 sees his son's photo, he most likely starts to relate. And this is what makes him change his mind to non guilty.

This is a win based on emotion.

4. Characters exit the tribunal

This scene last 2 minutes.

This is where we close the emotional arcs. All jurors exit silently, except 3 and 8.

The protagonist does a noble gesture, which is to hand his coat to his opponent. The equivalent of a graceful hand shake after a difficult match.

Once outside, juror 9, the first ally comes to the protagonist and asks him for his name, before saying goodbye and going his own way.

And the film ends.


I've written separated takeaways for previous acts one and two, but here are what I gather for the whole film:

1. No violence. This film does not rely on cheap jump scares of action sequences to keep us entertained. That said, the possibility of violence is there. This creates an increasing tension as it participates in the stakes rising.

2. Several strong opponents, each with different personalities. They each get defeated in a different way. Some adversaries can be in a position where they self-defeat themselves. This is more compelling  than many fights of nowadays landscape.

3. This story echoes because of its underlying theme. As individuals we can be victim of a system bigger than us, where people take quick but crucial decisions based on shortcuts. This is a story that could happen to any of us.
It's also interesting to remember that Henry Fonda had the persona required for this role, at least in the public perception, as he had already played the everyday man against the establishment in 'The grapes of wrath'.

4. Not many threads but they are intertwined. The various elements of the case are all mentioned in the first act, but we keep diving in their details as the story progresses. They are most of the time mixed with emotional reactions or with other details such as the films he saw in the cinema, why he came back to his home after the murder or the noise of the train passing by in the street. All those details help us:
- stay on our toes as we don't know what we will be important to prove the kid innocent.
- make the story entertaining, both in term of plot (we view the story as a puzzle that we would like to solve ourselves) and character (we discover them step by step).

5. Anchoring the main antagonist. Juror 3 may be the strongest adversaries, he is not the one the audience despises. This is juror 10. This allows us to develop an empathy for Juror 3, and we actually want him to grow as a person, to learn.

6. The main protagonist is not the one with the strongest arc. This might be a counter-intuitive part for most writers. It certainly is for me. But certain characters, like the main antagonist, have a stronger arc.

7. Long shots are amazing. There are quite a few:
- the character introduction (5 minutes)
- juror 8 shows how long the old man witness needed to walk to his door
- the racist juror goes on a rant
- the final shot as all exit the room
Not all are there to emphasize an emotional beat. Some are simply to place the context. Note that in all of them, both characters and cameras are moving.

8. Heavy use of stereotypes/archetypes. (also influenced by the culture of that era, that might not be subtle enough for today's more sophisticated audiences)
- the banker is uptight and heartless.
- the creative and still organized architect.
- the not so subtle but strong worker.
- the handsome but shallow advertisement marketer.

All in all, this is a great story that is worth watching several times. 12 great actors, a great director, all aligned to help this story and not to shine for themselves.

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