Plot: As both sides have made their arguments, the fate of a young man now rests in the hands of a jury of his peers, twelve men from various backgrounds who will decide what happens next. The young man’s freedom isn’t all that is at stake in the trial, as he could face the death penalty, so the verdict arrived at could not only impact his life, but perhaps even end it. Meanwhile, the jurors seem to agree it is an open and shut case, as there is a good amount of evidence and some of them are on a time crunch, with other things they need to do. But one juror (Jack Lemmon) isn’t so sure and while he isn’t convinced the accused is innocent, he is conflicted over whether there might be reasonable doubt. His holdout proves to infuriate his fellow jurors, but to speed things along, they agree to present their sides, then have a discussion on the case and how the vote should lean.
Entertainment Value: This movie has some big shoes to fill, given how acclaimed the original 12 Angry Men has become, but this made for television adaptation is able to more than hold its own. The premise remains the same, as a group of jurors must decide the fate of an accused man and while it seems open and shut to most, one man remains unconvinced. I still prefer the original of course, but there’s a lot to like here in terms of character studies and performances, as one again a remarkable ensemble of talent has brought together. The deliberation process is tense and a very gradual process, which means a slower pace and incremental development. But that makes sense, as we don’t want to see rushed shifts in perspective and it takes time to build to proper character turns, not to mention the process of establishing and expanding upon the various characters involved. The idea of this narrative is to look at how our personal biases and social views can impact our decisions, which this remake does and then some, with a good amount of depth. The confined location and pressure cooker atmosphere ensure the tension creeps up steadily, but the slow pace might put some folks off. Even so, I think this remake performers well and despite following an all time classic, carves out a place for itself to shine.
As this movie takes place in mostly a small, single location and is driven by characters and dialogue, the cast has a lot of the weight to carry in this one. An impressive group of talent was assembled, especially for a made for television production, though William Friedkin as director and the legacy of the classic original likely helped lure in this all star assortment. This is an ensemble piece to be sure, but Jack Lemmon has the more or less central role, as the juror who begins the movie as the lone holdout, then begins the case for a deeper examination. As always, Lemmon is excellent and he navigates all these different personalities with ease, making even small moments with his costars stand out as memorable. I was impressed by Tony Danza here as well, as he is given a role that limits his usual charm and humor, but he runs with it and plays the hard edged, often unlikable character well. But the best effort is likely George C. Scott, who brings a lot of emotion and presence to his part, especially toward the final act, where he becomes more of a focus. The cast also includes Ossie Davis, William Petersen, Hume Cronyn, Edward James Olmos, and Courtney B. Vance.
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