What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is not being done as part of a blog-a-thon. Instead, this is a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur. The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review. At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.
For July of 2019, the honor of being the “guest picker” went to the woman who introduced me to the world of the film blog-a-thon; Virginie from The Wonderful World of Cinema. For her month, the topic is “Movies Based On Plays.” I can’t wait to see all the participants; in the meantime I’m contributing the 1957 Henry Fonda classic “12 Angry Men.”
Set in a New York courthouse, on the surface “12 Angry Men” is the tale of a jury deliberating the fate of an 18-year-old being tried for allegedly stabbing his father. Going deeper, “12 Angry Men” really is an examination of perceptions, personal biases, and the effect they have on interpersonal relationships. Going beyond that, “12 Angry Men” takes a deep dive into the difficulties encountered when trying to get a group of people to agree on something, offers a not-so-subtle exploration on how consensus-building really works in a setting where the range of personalities and experiences only heightens the differences of opinion.
Moreover, this film offers a forceful allegory for the power of one person to elicit change, and more importantly it examines the right way to effect such change. To pull all of this off, “12 Angry Men” uses some very unconventional techniques. First of all, the characters remain almost entirely nameless; the jury members are identified only by number until two of them exchange names at the end.
That’s just one way this movie ironically highlights individuality. Another way it does this is by making everything visually homogeneous; the first-time viewer will notice all but three minutes of this film takes place in the jury room. Another point toward taking away the visual is the fact the jury is comprised exclusively of white men. To me, changing this was the main failing of the 1997 re-make; the homogeneous nature of the jury eliminated the possibility of even considering ethnic stereotypes, thus forcing the viewer to observe the personality, experiences, and actions of the jurors in a vacuum of visual cues.
As for the plot, as one would expect with a murder trial, the stakes are high. If he is found guilty, he will receive a death sentence.
In the original vote, all jurors vote “guilty” with the exception of Juror 8 (played by Henry Fonda). He insists there is reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Specifically, he raises questions about the reliability of the two witnesses and the prosecution’s claim that the murder weapon was “rare.” To that end, he produces a switchblade identical to the “rare” murder weapon. As such, Juror 8 declares that he cannot vote “guilty.”
Having hung the jury, to break the impasse Juror 8 suggests holding a secret ballot; if everyone is still agreed, he will acquiesce to the group and change his vote. However, the ballot reveals another “not guilty” vote. Juror 3 (played by Lee J. Cobb) accuses Juror 5 (played by Jack Klugman) of being the new dissenting vote because Juror 5 grew up in a violent slum like the defendant. In reality, it was Juror 9 (played by Joseph Sweeney) who changed his mind, agreeing there should be further discussion.
Emboldened by the change, Juror 8 describes another problem he has with the prosecution’s case. He believes that the witness who claimed to have heard the defendant threaten to kill his father could not have possibly done so due to the noise from a passing train. Jurors 5 and 11 (played by George Voskovec) agree and change their votes, while Juror 8 points out that people often say “I’m going to kill you” without literally meaning it.
At this point, Jurors 5, 6 (played by Edward Binns),and 8 cast doubt on the witness’s ability to have made it to his door in time to hear the threat and to see the defendant fleeing 15 seconds after hearing the father’s body hit the floor. A heated argument breaks out as Juror 3 becomes enraged and attempts to attack Juror 8 while shouting “I’ll kill him!” Juror 8 counters “You don’t really mean you’ll kill me, do you?” which flips Jurors 2 (played by John Fieldler) and 6 to the “not guilty” side.
Now that the jury is split down the middle, Juror 4 (played by E.G. Marshall) attempts to impugn the defendant’s alibi because he can’t recall certain key details, but this attempt stalls once Juror 8 challenges him on his own memory. Meanwhile, Juror 2 questions the idea that the defendant, who was much shorter than his father, could have inflicted the downward stab wounds, with Jurors 3 and 8 acting it out. Juror 5 supports Juror 4’s point with one of his own about how the wounds would most likely have been inflicted.
Now the ball really starts rolling as Juror 7 (played by Jack Warden) changes his vote to “not guilty;” he makes an unconvincing argument that he believes the defendant is actually innocent, however it is clear he just wants to get out of this deliberation. Despite the weakness of his argument, Jurors 1 (played by Martin Balsam) and 12 (played by Robert Webber) then change their votes, leaving only Jurors 3, 4 and 10 remaining on the “guilty” side.
Seeing the tide turning, Juror 10 (played by Ed Begley) erupts in a hate-filled rant against “slum” people, which back-fires as the others turn their backs to him. Juror 4 goes so far to tell him “sit down and don’t open your mouth again.” Juror 4 also declares the woman who saw the killing from across the street is still in play as a credible witness but Juror 9, seeing Juror 4 rub his nose, irritated by his glasses, realizes that the witness had impressions on her nose indicating she wore glasses, but did not wear them in court.
Other jurors confirm the same, and Juror 8 adds that she would not have worn them to bed, and the attack happened so swiftly that she would not have had time to put them on. Jurors 12, 10 and 4 then change their vote to “not guilty,” leaving Juror 3 as the sole hold out for a guilty verdict.
Being the last guilty vote standing causes Juror 3 to give an increasingly tortured string of arguments, building on earlier remarks about his strained relationship with his own son which turns out to be the reason he wants the accused to be guilty. He tears up a photograph of him and his son and breaks down, sobbing, and mutters “not guilty,” thus making the vote unanimous.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
As we find ourselves at the time of year when the teams in National Football League are opening their training camps, this is the perfect time to show that the mechanisms behind a jury deliberation are nearly identical to the process a football team goes through assembling it’s roster of players, particularly when it comes to the most crucial parts…the NFL draft and free-agency.
Last football season, in another series on Dubsism called “Tales of Depression and Sorrow,” I interviewed a long-suffering fan of the Minnesota Vikings. During that discussion, he told me that success in the NFL is determined on Draft Day and during free-agency. At first, I thought he was full of crap, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood his point. While there are factors a football team can’t control when it comes to the performance, such as injuries, bad weather, etc…, they are 100% in charge of player personnel decisions, and the two main means of doing so are the NFL Draft and free-agency.
This means there are decisions to be made, and where there’s decisions, there’s deliberations. While the stakes may not be life or death, the NFL is a multi-billion dollar per year business; there’s a lot of livelihoods riding on success or failure. Like “12 Angry Men,” the draft committee for an NFL team has difficult decisions to make, and just like a jury, the process for arriving at a decision is far more complex than simply “guilty” or “not guilty.”
First of all, an NFL team has to determine the parameters on which they will base a decision; are they picking the best player available or are they going to draft for what type of player the team may need? The parameters will affect where a team may want to make it’s selection; if they have a high draft pick, do they keep to draft a “star,” or do they trade down to get multiple picks later in the draft to fill out the roster?
Secondly, there’s that pesky matter of money. Professional football players make a lot of money, and NFL teams have a set limit they can spend on player salaries. For purposes of this discussion, let’s just say there’s a complex means teams go through to balance having the players they need versus the money they can spend. If you really want to go down a rabbit hole, you can check out my version of “The NFL Salary Cap For Non-Lawyers/Accountants.”
Finally, there’s good, old-fashioned “turf wars.” Is there a struggle between the offense and the defense? Are there two players available at the same position dividing the committee as to which one to pick? Is there somebody in the room who wants to show who really has the power in this decision? There’s at least as many variables involved as there are people in the room.
With that many variables in play, there’s a wide range of outcomes. To that long-suffering Viking fans’ point, there’s a direct correlation between how well a team manages those deliberations and how well they perform on the field. As much as they drive me crazy, the New England Patriots have won three of the last five Super Bowls because they tend to get Draft Day right. Maybe they have a Ouija board with a direct connection to Henry Fonda.
The Moral of The Story:
The American system of jurisprudence works slowly for a reason, not the least of which is it forces discussion in the face of differing points of view. As NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley once said “Just because you didn’t get the result you wanted doesn’t mean you didn’t get due process.”
More people need to understand that.
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