Twelve Angry Men is a wonderful film that dramatizes the "imperfections" inherent in the American jury system. Simultaneously, it delivers the powerful message that because we are human beings and not machines, it is in the nature of things that justice demands such a system.
At the outset, eleven jurors vote in favor of convicting the accused without even discussing a single shred of the evidence presented at trial. Only one brave juror refuses to vote. He openly admits that he does not know whether the accused is guilty or innocent and that he finds it necessary to simply talk about the case. What follows is not only a discussion of the particular facts of the case, but an intense examination of the personal baggage that each jury member brings to the room.
It’s great that the film is not overtly critical of the fact that the juror’s personal baggage is not checked at the door. Many critics argue that the jury system works against justice because a jury is not trained to distance itself from a case in the same way that a lawyer or judge is trained to do. On a certain level, this argument makes sense. At least it’s a rational argument. However, how is it possible for human beings to check their lived experience at the door? Is it necessarily "bad" that jurors scrutinize the evidence through the unique filters with which they view the world? After all, are they not called upon to speak on behalf of the diverse community in which we live? These are key questions Twelve Angry Men begs us to ask. They’re good questions because they force us to reevaluate our thinking before hastily reaching the conclusion that the system doesn’t work or that it amounts to nothing more than a mere joke.
The film also does a great job of not being overtly critical of the fact that some people merely follow their "gut" when it comes time to cast their vote. One particular juror in Twelve Angry Men votes in favor of convicting the accused. When challenged, however, he readily admits that he doesn’t know why he thinks that the accused is guilty. This man’s character is used as a vehicle to expose a serious flaw in the system. We see that sometimes jurors completely abandon reason. Many critics advance the rational argument that the power of a juror to decide one way or another for no apparent reason cannot possibly work to achieve justice. However, the film also exposes us to those jurors in the room who openly express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings about the case. This juxtaposition of characters in the jury room is ultimately consistent with the fact that the room should reflect the diverse community in which we live.
Still, what happens when the jury doesn’t understand.