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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 12 Angry Men is a gripping 1957 drama that makes much out of a simple situation (the ordinary deliberations of a jury) and setting (the room where they have been sequestered). Jurors smoke cigarettes throughout the movie. Biased jurors state as a "fact" that minorities drink too much alcohol. There is one "damn." A young man is accused of stabbing his father to death. Jurors nearly come to blows over disagreements about the case. One juror threatens to kill another in the heat of the moment. The fact that this jury is made up exclusively of white males should be explained to kids as a sign of the film's time period. Despite its age, this drama still has a lot to say about the principles on which the American justice system is based, as well as issues of prejudice.
What's the story?
12 ANGRY MEN creates a mesmerizing drama out of an event that takes place many times every day throughout the United States: A man is tried by a jury of his peers. "Nice bunch of guys, huh?" one juror remarks sarcastically after a particularly heated argument. The juror, played by Henry Fonda, replies, "They're about the same as anyone else." That observation is central to the film, which shows the deliberation of a murder trial where a young Puerto Rican man is accused of killing his father.
Is it any good?
Though this is an older film, its examination of the jury system is as valid as ever, and it may be even more important today when media sensationalism has such a strong effect on public perceptions. The movie stresses that the most crucial issue is not whether the jurors think the accused is guilty but, according to the law, whether that has been proven "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Henry Fonda, perfectly cast in 12 Angry Men as a man who values reason, leads a troupe of familiar character actors in a movie that makes a virtue out of its cramped setting. Fonda is one of the great movie stars who will be discovered afresh by new generations.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about confusing aspects of the legal system and the complex topic of prejudice in 12 Angry Men. How timely are these issues now? Give some examples.
Explore the idea of being tried by a "jury of your peers," since it's easy for kids to assume that peers are people who are similar to the accused in nearly every way.
Why do you think this film is considered a classic? Does it stand the test of time?
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