Here is my personal list, one at a time, of the top ten movie characters ever. However, feel free to agree or offer better choices and argument. SPOILER CAUTION! The content below may give away some of the plot of the film(s) concerned.
#4 JUROR NO.8
Juror #8 (the marvellous Henry Fonda) in the 1957 classic ’12 Angry Men’ is the epitome of truth and unprejudiced justice. Sitting in a New York jury room without air conditioning on the hottest day of the year, he stands alone against 11 angry men who all believe the young defendant is guilty of murder. Fighting their egos and prejudices he demands that they discuss the case and that just because he probably is guilty does not mean he necessarily is and that the man should not be sent to his death as there is reasonable doubt.
Juror #8: I just want to talk.
Juror #7: Well, what’s there to talk about? Eleven men in here think he’s guilty. No one had to think about it twice except you.
Juror #10: I want to ask you something: do you believe his story?
Juror #8: I don’t know whether I believe it or not – maybe I don’t.
Juror #7: So how come you vote not guilty?
Juror #8: Well, there were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.
Juror #7: Well now, who says it’s easy?
Juror #8: No one.
Juror #7: What, just because I voted fast? I honestly think the guy’s guilty. Couldn’t change my mind if you talked for a hundred years.
Juror #8: I’m not trying to change your mind. It’s just that… we’re talking about somebody’s life here. We can’t decide it in five minutes. Supposing we’re wrong?
Gradually he creates doubt in their minds, one by one, by presenting the flaws in the prosecution’s case and exposing the prejudices of those who seem to assume he is guilty.
Juror #2: It’s hard to put into words. I just think he’s guilty. I thought it was obvious from the word, ‘Go’. Nobody proved otherwise.
Juror #8: Nobody has to prove otherwise. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t even have to open his mouth. That’s in the Constitution.
He has heard the same evidence the rest of the jury has, but he is concerned about the lacklustre defence who did not cross examine the key eye witnesses very strongly.
“Look, there was one alleged eye witness to this killing. Someone else claims he heard the killing, saw the boy run out afterwards and there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. But, actually, those two witnesses were the entire case for the prosecution. Supposing they’re wrong?”
Juror #3: You’re talking about a matter of seconds. Nobody can be that accurate.
Juror #8: Well I think that testimony that can put a boy into the electric chair SHOULD be that accurate.
We don’t find out much detail about Juror No.8, but we do discover that he has 3 children and makes his living as an architect. It’s only at the last moment of the film is his name revealed to be Davis. We do learn that he is quite a wise fellow and seems to be able to empathise with people from different backgrounds and sizes up the rest of the jurors very well. In particular, he is in opposition to the bull-ish Juror #3 (Lee J.Cobb) and knows how to push his buttons in order to make his point. He realises Juror #3 is angry at the defendant (who is accused of murdering his father) because of his own estranged relationship with his son.
Juror #8: Ever since you walked into this room, you’ve been acting like a self-appointed public avenger! You want to see this boy die because you personally want it, not because of the facts! You’re a sadist!
[Three lunges wildly at Eight, who holds his ground. Several jurors hold Three back]
Juror #3: I’ll kill him! I’LL KILL HIM!
Juror #8: You don’t *really* mean you’ll kill me, do you?
[then a bit later]
Juror #3: That business before when that tall guy, what’s-his-name, was trying to bait me? That doesn’t prove anything. I’m a pretty excitable person. I mean, where does he come off calling me a public avenger, sadist and everything? Anyone in his right mind would blow his stack. He was just trying to bait me.
Juror #4: He did an excellent job.
We also learn that Juror #8 has taken a strong interest in this case and is willing to take a risk. A big and convincing part of the prosecution’s case is that the accused had bought, and then claimed he lost, a distinctive looking switch-blade that knife the night of the killing that the shop owner said was unique and the same as the murder weapon. Juror #8 asks to look at the knife in the jury room and in a dramatic moment #8 pulls out of his own pocket a similar looking knife and reveals he went to the accused neighbourhood, and even though it is against the law, he found he could easily buy a switch blade that looks just like the murder weapon.
Juror #10 (Ed Begley) alienates himself from some of the jury with his remarks on the accused based on the ethnic background of the defendant and in his frustration he shows his true racist colours with a rant that causes most to turn their back on him. Even though Juror #8 is winning his argument and exposing the flaws, errors and prejudices of his fellow jurors, he is not glib or egotistical and takes no personal pride in proving he is right. He ignores the personal conflicts going on and tries to be focused and rational with the task at hand.
“It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we’re just gambling on probabilities – we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don’t know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that’s something that’s very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it’s SURE.”
After creating credible reasonable doubt in the testimony of the key eye witnesses, he has convinced most of them and there are 11 votes for not guilty with only stubborn Juror #3 sticking to his verdict of guilty.
Juror #3: I don’t care whether I’m alone or not! It’s my right.
Juror #8: It’s your right.
Juror #3: Well, what do you want? I say he’s guilty.
Juror #8: We want to hear your arguments.
Juror #3: I gave you my arguments!
Juror #8: We’re not convinced. We want to hear them again. We have as much time as it takes.
In an emotional end, Juror #3 tries to explain his reasons but he is losing conviction in his words and eventually breaks down as he realises in his emotional state he is ripping up the photo of him and his son. He changes his vote to not guilty and they all leave. Juror #8 does not gloat in his victory and empathises with #3’s situation. The others leave #3 there, but #8 helps him put on his jacket.
Juror #8 is a character full of virtue. He stands up for what he believes and does not bend in the face of considerable peer pressure. He does not rise to the bait and the criticisms, but displays reason and objectivity. He is not claiming he knows the boy is not guilty, just that he has doubts and wants to talk them through. He is willing to listen to the arguments both for and against. He not only makes my top 10, but appears quite highly on it as it is a character that is important to me. A character I and others hope to aspire to be and emulate. We are all human and show prejudice from time to time, but Juror #8 helps reminds us of how we should be.