Welcome to The Wright Stuff, our weekly column following the career of Raptors point guard Delon Wright. Since we can’t influence his training or anything on the court, we’ll recommend films that reflect his past week and hopefully inspire a leap forward. It’ll be part film breakdown, part essay, and part whatever loose piece of wisdom we can shake from the experience.
Delon Wright began this week with an enjoyable win over the Bucks. He played his usual part, putting in 12 points, dishing out seven assists, and helping to slow the rangy Bucks with his equally long-limbed defensive efforts. The Raptors won in a walk. It was all in a day’s work for Delon.
But sometimes things happen and a person has to go beyond their ordinarily line of duty. In this case, Wright was tasked first with running the offense on the biggest play of the game in Brooklyn. The gambit didn’t quite work — DeMar DeRozan’s shot was wild — and the teams went to overtime. Just as suddenly, the Raps lost Kyle Lowry to injury for some indeterminate amount of time.
The following game Wright stood even more alone. Now he was tasked with running the Raptors for long stretches without the support of Lowry. His minutes jumped by nine (from 20 to 29), but his presence on the court remained somewhat the same. Delon counted on others, and as we saw on Tuesday night against the Heat: it wasn’t enough to win.
I remember seeing 1957’s 12 Angry Men for the first time in Grade 6. Even then it hit me right between the eyes with its precise sense of justice, clear moral vision, and — last but not least — economic filmmaking. There are but two scenes outside the small jury room at the centre of the film — one in a courtroom to set the stage, the other on the steps of the courthouse, a grace note epilogue to remind us of the existence of the wider world. (OK, there’s one in an adjoining bathroom, but they’re of a piece!)
As directed by Sidney Lumet however, the jury room is the wider world; the twelve men who enter acting as stand-ins from different walks of life, with contrasting perspectives, and varied ways of being. In the film, those differences unite in a single purpose: these men must decide the fate of a young boy accused of murdering his own father. A unanimous guilty verdict means the death penalty, and at the outset, as the men take their seats, it feels like a forgone conclusion.
That is until legendary good guy actor Henry Fonda, as Juror 8, decides to take a stand. He votes not guilty at first because, well, he feels like the men ought to at least talk about the case for a second. This is a boy’s life at stake here, and, as he tells it, many bits of the evidence and testimony don’t quite add up. 12 Angry Men isn’t exactly a whodunnit mystery, it’s not trying to find the real killer. But as Fonda works on the other men, persuades them, appeals to their humanity and sense of justice, we do learn about the twelve men in that room — who they are, what they believe, and how it colours their actions.
There are dated aspects to 12 Angry Men now. The first is right there in the title — there are no woman present. There’s also a curious lack of any non-white ethnicity — though the alleged perpetrator is Latino. I suppose we could also pick at its stage-y presentation, which limits the cinematic possibilities of its narrative. (The movie is based on a stage play, so I’d tread lightly on that one.) Maybe the whole enterprise is a tad unrealistic too — one man holding up the wheels of the entire justice system. That’s a fair note, but it also misses the point.
I keep thinking about Delon at the top of the circle as the seconds ticked away in Brooklyn. He had the ball — and his team’s fate — in his hands, and had to watch as the Raptors’ two best players ran through a screen play to get an open shot. The crowd was going wild, many more Raps fans were hollering at their TVs. But what did Wright feel like in that moment?
Against the Heat, and on the periphery of the action, Delon had to watch some confusion on defense — a weird switch between Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby — undo all of his efforts. Miami won at the last second, and despite everyone on the Raptors working together, with Wright doing what he could he Lowry’s shadow, the loss happened anyway.
Why I still cling to 12 Angry Men now is its firm belief in people’s ability to see what is right. A person enters a room with a history and weight, and it changes how they approach situations, how they deal with adversity, and how they confront other people. Sure, the jury room in the film isn’t an accurate cross-section of reality. It presents the wider world as merely a black-and-white affair — both literally and figuratively. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for that ideal.
In that aforementioned epilogue, two of the jurors introduce themselves and say so long on the steps of the courthouse. That’s it, the end. They did what they could, hoping it was the right thing. If it wasn’t, or if it had failed, well... at least they tried.