A boy is accused of killing his father. A jury of twelve must decide his fate and in the first preliminary vote, only one lone "not guilty" comes from Juror 8 (Henry Fonda). Everyone is quick to have an answer as to why they so quickly decided to send a teenager to the electric chair. "It's an open and shut case", says Juror 3. It is up to these twelve men to decide the boys fate and Juror 8 must do his best to convince them of reasonable doubt.
The dialogue in this film is intelligent, sincere and full of vigour. The film is almost a study in claustrophobic emotion as the heat, cramped quarters and argumentative attitudes push some of the jurors to the boiling point.
Also, one of the greatest things about this movie and its greatest strength is that we get to know each juror. Usually with large casts, several members slip into the background to become supporting players but here we are fortunate in that the opposite is true. The twelve jurors are of different ages and backgrounds with different prejudices and personalities that properly reflect the makeup of juries in the real world. It gives credence to the idea that a jury is made up of people from every walk of life, stuck together, trapped even, until they reach a unanimous decision.
Something also to note is that not all of the jurors voting "guilty" are doing so out of malice or some long-held prejudice. Juror 4 is basing his vote on logic alone. Another has tickets to ball game he doesn't want to miss. This is just another example of how the film tries to play the idea of shades of gray.
The pace in the movie, while not break neck, is even and in some cases urgent as the story behind the killing is revealed and the evidence comes under close scrutiny as the plot unravels.
Some things to watch for is that the room seems to become smaller as the film progresses. This is thanks to director Sidney Lumet says he "shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot to raise the tension of the last part of the movie." In the film's last shot, he observes, he used a wide-angle lens "to let us finally breathe."
This is not an action film. There are no big explosions, no fistfights or final battles and so it may not be for everyone. That isn't to say this is a slow movie or boring. It's more of a character study where the audience gets to see what happens when a group of strangers are thrown together.
Somebody find Eli Wallach.