12th man review: Mohanlal film has interesting premise but is let down by poor writing

The murder mystery revolves around 11 friends and a strange game they play with their phones out on the table.
Mohanlal in 12th Man
Mohanlal in 12th Man
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Perhaps KR Krishnakumar, the scriptwriter, was preparing us for the murder ahead when he introduces 11 people as a set of annoyingly superficial friends in 12th Man, the new thriller from the Jeethu Joseph-Mohanlal team. Why else would a bunch of grownups have such lousy conversations, passing on a secret like kindergarteners and generally making the accidental viewer squirm? Either the writer never paid attention when friends had conversations around him or else he wanted us to see how absurd this gang of people he had to write about were. Just so there is no surprise when one of them dies and all the others become suspects. There is of course the twelfth man, the stranger, coming into their midst, making things slightly interesting.

Mohanlal, unsurprisingly, is the stranger at the resort that the gang of 11 come to spend a night at. One of them – Siddharth (Anu Mohan) – is getting married and the gang is having a party at the mostly deserted resort. Character introductions happen helter-skelter, but give you enough time to fix who is married to whom and who doesn’t like whom. You imagine Jeethu Joseph running around the actors – all of them known faces – asking one to frown, the other to laugh, a third to look silly. Saiju Kurup and Anusree, Anu Sithara and Rahul Madhav, Sshivada and Chandunath, Priyanka and Unni Mukundan, Anu Mohan and Aditi Ravi, and Leona Lishoy – not difficult to remember. Full marks to Jeethu for avoiding the confusion when you have a big cast on board.

That’s the way murder mysteries work, of course – you have a bunch of people with disquieting backstories so the solver can bring it all out on the table. And tables, quite literally, play a big part in the film. That’s where a lot of “secrets” come tumbling out when the friends are seated around and one of them has an idea for a game. For one whole hour, they place their mobile phones out on the table and agree to play every call and message out loud for everyone to hear, in some weird urge to prove that they have no secrets to hide.

Watch: Trailer of the film

But even with a game that sounds interesting – weird but interesting – the script turns lame with the kind of “secrets” that pop out and the reactions to them. It fits your initial assessment that these are awful friends, who, if nothing else, have their lousiness in common. Anil Johnson’s music is not much help in raising your tension or sympathy. There are two nice songs, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the film, which don’t suit the story but suit the setting – an isolated building in a cold, remote place. Satheesh Kurup, the cinematographer, makes sure that the beautiful interiors are caught on camera, letting the exteriors remain misty and dark.

Mohanlal popping in and out of the film, first as a clownish character who loves his drink and later as a very serious man (apparently affected by some major face-washing), is charming in the latter half. His is the most convincing character of the lot, the others often reduced to caricatures of hypocritical youth. These are some fine actors but there is only so much they can do.

To be fair though, the premise remains interesting and the suspense creates some interest. A whole lot of rewriting might have made it more enjoyable; as it is, Jeethu Joseph’s new thriller has substance but lacks quality.

12th Man is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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