There is a killer moment in Twelve Angry Men when E.G. Marshall changes his mind. The camera stays focused on his face, which is wide with surprise at how wrong he'd been, how sure, how convinced and as the dialogue swirls around him, out of frame, you see him move his eyes in thought ... and change his mind. Marshall brilliantly portrays a wealthy, well-dressed stockbroker, a reasonable man, a Republican. All very understated and pinstriped, but it's clear that his character has bought the premise, bought the case, done things the right way. The kid killed his father because the prosecutor says to, and that is how the system works. As Henry Fonda, the doubting architect, scratches away at a case that would send a young suspect to the chair (it's 1957), Marshall is one of the hold-outs. Oh, he doesn't yell and scream and descend to cruel, naked racism like some of his pro-conviction colleagues (the kid's Puerto Rican). He's not in a hurry to get to the Yankee game like Jack Warden. He takes the upper road, the law and order path.
Then he realizes just how weak the case is, how poor the witnesses really were, and how complacent he himself had been. It's a quietly terrifying scene, totally removed from some of the sweaty histrionics of the rest of the cast in Sidney Lumet's wonderful set piece.
And it's what is happening all over this country with increasing rapidity - the cold realization of not only failure in Iraq, but weakness of it all, the gullibility of us all, our failure to see, our willingness to trust and believe and follow. Like E.G. Marshall's stockbroker, a legion of upstanding citizens is realizing tehri gross, mass mistake - its happening in Connecticut, where the war far more than the game, blogging volunteers, are spelling Democratic doom for Joe Lieberman. And I think it's going to happen elsewhere, as the jurors begin to switch their votes one by one. After an 11-to-one vote in the sweltering jury room on Centre Street, Henry Fonda explains his refusal to convict:
It's not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first...We're talking about somebody's life here.We can't decide in five minutes. Supposin' we're wrong.
Watching this over the weekend - a quiet, non-blogging, non-wired time away at the shore - it seemed a fitting metaphor. All those men (and they were all men, all white, and all wearing ties) on the jury taking in the obvious and going along, doing their duty. And then being overwhelmed by the evidence: not of who committed the crime or what should, in fact, happen now; but rather, how wrong and ful of holes the case for conviction was.
And being wrong matters, especially when 2,500 young men and women die, when thousands of Americans are wounded, when tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead.
Almost the entire nation is now filled with reasonable doubt about this bleeding occupation. The few holdouts are all Lee J. Cobb - irrational, clinging to discredited beliefs and ignorance, angry and loud, disdainful of thse who challenge a patriotic vision. You'll find them on FreeRepublic, and Little Green Footballs, and Pajamas Media, and in the West Wing of our Presidential residence.
Mr. Foreman, it's time to take another vote.