12 Angry Men & Women (2005)
6 out of 5 stars
Starring: Professor Harrington, Dean Slabach, Professor Newman, Professor Barnes, Professor Short, Bernie Schuchmann (2L), Pat Dohoney, Professor Rambo, Joe Kimball (3L), and Professor Conway.
Director: Texas Wesleyan University Student Bar Association
Time: 25 mins
There aren't many short plays that can illustrate the power of a partially improvised script and the quixotic blend of between half-stoic half-comedic cast better than the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law faculty's rendition of Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic, 12 Angry Men. There are no startling visuals, no bravura camera angles, and no special effects. Just twelve faulty members and students on a crude stage, carefully seated across three tables in front of a make-believe poster window, articulating the guilt of an 18-year-old boy from the 'hood. The fact that the faculty kept my attention for 25 minutes outside of class demonstrates our professor's ability to captivate the real people. The superb acting fleshes out each character (remember there are twelve here, and each one is more vivid than those in a slew of modern blockbusters), particularly the the sure but restrained portrayal of Professor Harrington's Juror #3.
The story is simple but no less relevant even now. A young, disadvantaged boy is charged with the stabbing murder of his father after an apparent heated argument. The case against him seems overwhelming, and the twelve jurors assigned to his trial retire to their chamber to decide on his fate. All are convinced of his guilt - all, that is, except juror #8 (Professor Rambo). She is not sure if the accused is guilty or not, but she wants to discuss the case a bit further. In the face of some stern resistance, especially from jurors like #3 (Professor Harrington), a spiteful woman who has a personal reason to see the boy behind bars; #7 (Pat Dohoney), who just wants to record a quick verdict so he can catch a Jerry Springer show; and #10 (Joe Kimball), who is convinced that all teenagers are unstable; she starts to argue some of the prosecution's points. She points out some inconsistencies and slowly some of the jurors come around to her point of view. Will she convince all of them there's enough doubt for a "Not Guilty" decision? In a climatic ending, the reluctant juror #3 (Harrington) finally blares out a "Not Guilty" that could be heard in the hallways.
The brilliance of 12 Angry Men & Women is not in the dissection of the trial and the evidence, but in the portrayal of the twelve jurors. Everyone is a satirical, self-deprecating individual, with off-note world preconceptions that threaten to turn their deliberations into a cat-fight. But neither is anyone a villainous type or a bad guy; when the verdict is reached, everyone just goes their separate ways, back to their daily lives as law professors. Indeed, one of the most poignant parts of the film is when Juror #8 (Professor Rambo) asks everyone if they've heard of the 4th Amendment to which Juror #4 (Professor Barnes) responds, "Of course everyone has heard of it, GOSH." Therein lies the beauty of 12 Angry Men & Women - one is so consumed by the brilliance of the script and the acting that it doesn't matter who the jurors are. Equally, for those who like courtroom dramas, the facts surrounding the murder case are interesting, but serve more to ignite the jurors' passions and personalities than providing foolproof evidence for or against.
The cast is a powerhouse. Led by Professor Rambo, there are many notable character legal actors who had already achieved fame or would go on to do so in the future. Rambo is very good as the woman of reason, but even more memorable are Professor Harrington, Professor Newman, and Pat Dohoney as the three most vocal opponents of Rambo. Law review regular Professor Barnes is also good, as is Dean Martin as the foreman who frequently loses control of his colleagues. Indeed, there's not a serious note in any of the performances.
Theater is a visual and emotional medium, but 12 Angry Men & Women shows that writing and acting are just as important to a short play's success. While probably only a minor classic in the annals of Hollywood greats, 12 Angry Men & Women is now one of my all-time favorite productions. I can give no higher praise than to say it is a show I can watch again and again. However, I suggest to our professors not to quit their day jobs yet.
Based on an original review written by Joe Wong.