With 12th Man, director Jeethu Joseph and scriptwriter KR Krishnakumar ensure that none of the major characters are eliminated till the very end and that itself is a huge win
Story: A group of 11 friends check into a resort to celebrate an upcoming wedding. As they begin discussing their lives, one thing leads to another and the bunch ends up playing a game to prove that they don’t keep anything from their friend circle or their spouses. Soon secrets come tumbling out, leading to heated arguments. As they split to cool off and find the truth about an unexpected and shocking revelation, they are hit by the news that one of them is found dead. Another mysterious stranger joins them to find out the cause of death and the incidents leading to the suicide or murder.
Review: To weave a captivating story with 12 characters and embed it with elements to prolong the interest of the audience for over 2 hours and 40 minutes is no mean task. But considering that director Jeethu Joseph has proved himself a master at it, at least in the second aspect with his movies such as the Drishyam duology and Detective, he’s arguably the best man for the job. With 12th Man, the filmmaker delivers, but its scriptwriter KR Krishnakumar deserves equal credit in piecing together a riveting and smart whodunit mystery film that twists and turns – albeit too many times.
The primary challenge for the makers for a movie of the genre is in ensuring that each of the characters emerge as suspects at some point of time, to keep the audience guessing. With 12th Man, the filmmaker and writer ensure that none of the major characters are eliminated till the very end and that itself is a huge win. There are red herrings and lies to throw the discerning viewer as well as the investigator off track, but these also come with convincing justifications – be it a wife’s retort at her husband who questions her ethics or best friends covering for each other even if they could be held guilty.
To get into the plot points of the film would mean spoiling the suspense, but 12th Man, even with its long runtime for an OTT movie, is decently paced. A key reason for this is how Krishnakumar has detailed each of these 12 characters, giving them personalities that aid how the story is told. Jeethu manages to achieve this in the first hour, by carefully revealing select traits and secrets in the initial phase and then unfurling them one by one as the cloistered investigation progresses, again through the same game that caused discord between the seemingly close-knit group.
Using tropes of extramarital affair, mental illness, money matters and lack of faith, the makers sift through each character’s past and present, while keeping the viewer engrossed in the proceedings. Here again, even though Mohanlal plays a pivotal role in controlling this in the second phase, all 12 artistes have an equal role to play in how the story unfolds. Their varied personalities also mean there is no comparison between any of them, and all the artistes including Chandunath, Anusree, Sshivada and Unni Mukundan put on great performances that drive the movie without standing out too much.
The only grouse is that the movie is slightly long. Though it does reflect how the investigator gets to the bottom of it and also ensures it’s not a job that’s hastily done, you’d wonder even if they had left one angle unexplored, would it have made too much of a difference? But then again, this is a movie that is largely shot in a single location and the interrogation sequence gets the lion’s share of the screen time. So, every angle is an escape or a step closer to eliminating a suspect.
Cinematographer Satheesh Kurup’s elegant frames and Anil Johnson’s refined music makes it a classy mystery film that would remind the viewers of similar Hollywood movies of the genre. The frames are tight, evidently because it's an OTT film, but it also serves to keep the viewers' focus on the suspects and that's where the actors' performances shine through.
Verdict: Director Jeethu Joseph and scriptwriter Krishnakumar KR’s 12th Man is a smart whodunit mystery film. Though the film is over 2 hours and 40 minutes long, the makers ensure it has you engrossed – at least for the large part of it, thanks to clever writing and some fine work by the cast and crew.
12th Man is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.