The Jeethu Joseph-Mohanlal collaboration yielded the Malayalam blockbuster and remake generator Drishyam and its sequel. If Drishyam was about a family man building a watertight alibi for a righteous murder, 12th Man is about the contours and limits of friendship.
A group of 11 long-term friends – five couples and a single woman – have booked a resort for a few days. Each of the friends brings along emotional baggage to the vacation.
Mathew (Saiju Kurup) regrets not marrying Fida (Leona Lishoy) and worries about the spending habits of his wife Shiny (Anusree). Annie (Priyanka), the partner of the frequently unemployed Zachariah (Unni Mukundan), is pregnant.
Bank manager Sam (Rahul Madhav), married to Merin (Anu Sithara), is involved in what appears to be a shady financial transaction. The other couples are Sidharth (Anu Menon) and Arathy (Aditi Ravi) and Jithesh (Chandunath) and the doctor Nayana (Sshivada).
Nayana arguably sets the ball rolling by tattling on Annie’s pregnancy to the group even though she has been told to stay mum. The business of never keeping secrets from friends leads to a tech update on Truth and Dare, the game that is designed to lead to doom. At dinner, everyone in the group is persuaded to put incoming calls on a speakerphone and publicly reveal received messages.
Sharing has always been a bit overrated. Oversharing is definitely a disaster. As if it’s not bad enough that uncomfortable truths tumble out, the night ends with the discovery of Shiny’s dead body.
Did she kill herself or was she done in? That question is answered by Chandrashekhar (Mohanlal), a police officer who happens to be the only other guest at the resort. Chandrashekhar herds everybody into a room and proceeds to pick apart each of the alibis.
The Disney+ Hotstar release is based on a story by Sunir Kheterpal and a screenplay by KR Krishnakumar. (A vigilant Wikipedia editor has pointed out that the Truth and Dare variant is from the 2016 Italian film Perfect Strangers).
The overall importance of smartphones and its clever use in Chandrashekhar’s investigation breathes new life into an old-fashioned murder mystery that has money and infidelity among the possible motives. Indeed, Chandrashekhar might be one of the few detectives in the world who solves a crime simply by dialling numbers and making sense of who called or messaged whom at what time.
Will you be able to speed it up, a character asks – never a good question in a Jeethu Joseph film. Viewers have to wait for every character to be introduced before the crime occurs. Once the dark deed is done, we have to warm our seats for much longer until Chandrashekhar ambles towards the truth.
Editor VS Vinayak does a fine job of cutting between shots and reactions shots in a largely sit-down narrative. Vinayak also comes up with interesting editing transitions between the flashbacks and the present – a big help during a needlessly lengthy 163-minute film.
For all its emphasis on human psychology, 12th Man is woefully low on character shading. The link drawn between Shiny’s mental state and her actions is a cheap shot in a drama that places great emphasis on grey matter.
The competently performed movie, led with typically understated elan by Mohanlal, takes too long to finally reveal the killer. It’s the kind of film in which characters dissemble minutes before the denouement. Whatever the features of the cellphones that Chandrashekhar handles in his quest for the truth, speed-dial is clearly not among them.