One Perfectly Civil Man

by unpseudable

Just your average, honest American everyman, doing his duty

Tom Hanks’ new role, as Juror #8, is in an up-to-date retelling of 12 Angry Men, showing the reality of life in an American courtroom.  Diverging considerably from the original, this retelling has Hanks playing a perfectly reasonable-minded, polite juror in a domestic violence case, while all his fellow jurors around him are behaving similarly reasonably.

The film starts from an intriguing premise: major Hollywood star, Tom Hanks, is called in for jury duty.  Despite the high profile nature of this particular juror, all agree that he seems to be an entirely reasonable man, one likely to take his duties very seriously.  All starts off in a deceptively typical manner: our hero assiduously takes notes, listening intently to the ins and outs of the case.  And so it continues.

Soon it becomes clear that one of the lawyers on the prosecution team is not what she seems.  Despite appearing to be a serious-minded lawyer, she has another agenda.  She, it transpires, is a Tom Hanks fan.  During a break in the trial, she approaches Hanks in a stairwell and politely thanks him, telling him that everyone is so impressed that such a major star is there, ready and willing to do jury duty.

Once the defence gets wind of this breach of ethics, all momentum is lost.  What could have been a romantic comedy-drama detailing the clandestine affair between two people divided by fame and courtroom ethics, or a thriller breaking wide open an apparently simple case to reveal a massive conspiracy, leading to a countrywide game of cat and mouse, the plot instead plumps for realism.  The case goes for a mistrial, leaving the defendant pleading guilty to the lesser charge of disturbing the peace, getting away with a $150 fine.

The best courtroom dramas, with life-and-death stakes, palpable tension pervading every scene, the hero battling against all odds to sway the opinions of jurors, can become true classics.  This one, with Hanks playing his well-worn, everyman, nice-guy role, and a narrative opting for realistic outcomes at every turn is not one of them.  The verdict is: avoid.

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